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Greenpeace activists draw attention to polluted Santiago

April 8, 2012

Clad in protective suits and gas masks, Greenpeace activists marked World Water Day by rowing into the heavily polluted waters of the Rio Santiago to leave placards drawing attention to the plight of the river.

With their kayaks submerged in the half-meter of toxic foam that coats the surface, the environmental campaigners unfurled banners with messages such as “Mexican rivers, toxic rivers” by the El Salto/Juanacatlan waterfall.

Due to industrial dumping, toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium and lead have been detected in the putrid-smelling, foam-covered Rio Santiago, which flows out of Lake Chapala and winds past the eastern side of Guadalajara before heading off to Nayarit and the Pacific Ocean.  It is considered one of the most polluted waterways in Mexico.

The aim of the Greenpeace protest was to pressure the Mexican authorities into implementing a policy to clean the nation’s rivers by 2020. According to the organization, over 70 percent of surface water in Mexico suffers from some degree of contamination.

“The water pollution directly affects communities that live near rivers, lakes and tributaries, because it causes health dangers and infects sources of food,” said Gustavo Ampugnani, campaign director of Greenpeace Mexico.

“It also represents a high cost to society as a whole: the more water is contaminated in the tributaries, the more expensive it becomes to make it drinkable, bring it to the cities and address the damage it causes to communities and the environment.”

The Greenpeace campaign calls for the government to put a halt to the industrial discharge of toxic substances into national waters, with heavy fines to sanction organizations found guilty of pollution.

In February 2008, a blood sample taken from an eight-year-old boy who died after falling in the Santiago River near El Salto was found to contain 51 micrograms of arsenic. Before he died Miguel Angel Lopez Rocha spent 18 days in a coma after being admitted to hospital suffering from diarrhea, vomiting and hallucinations.  Jalisco’s Health Department has refused to recognize that he died as a result of arsenic poisoning.

Additional studies, however, have found that children exposed to water from the Santiago River suffer from frequent headaches and nausea and often have skin disease.

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