In August of last year, a copper mine owned by Buenavista del Cobre, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, spilled 10.5 million gallons of copper sulphate acid into Cananea, Mexico’s public waterways. Called the “worst environmental disaster by the mining industry in modern times” by Mexican Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Juan Jose Guerra Abud, the disaster has devastated the local environment and, even worse, there are still no signs of any clean-up efforts.
According to Grupo Mexico, heavy metals like iron, aluminum and zinc were released into the water with the copper sulphate acid solution. The environmental damage is estimated at over $134 million. Although the company says that they have created a $148 million trust to take care of the environmental damage and pay claims to local residents, most of the more than 24,000 people impacted by the disaster say that they have not received any help at all, even now, almost six months after the accident.
The company’s website says that: “Buenavista del Cobre is hard at work and is supporting local communities by supplying water and through local public service channels that are available in all these communities to quickly resolve any claims for material damages incurred as a result of the accident.” While residents appreciate the bottles of water delivered to their communities, they say that any other reparations or help is almost non-existent.
Local residents, who are mostly agricultural workers and farmers, are having a hard time selling their produce because of the worry of contamination. Because less money is circulating through the communities, local merchants are also suffering. “They are leaving us to die slowly”, 53-year-old resident Jesús Francisco Salcido Morán said. “We have always been hard-working people, but we have reached the limit. I am desperate.” Moran says his income has plummeted since the accident.
Unfortunately, according to Greenpeace Mexico, this spill is just the tip of the iceberg. Over 70 percent of Mexican waterways suffer some sort of contamination due to lax regulations on large corporations, such as Grupo Mexico. Damages to the Mexican environment are evaluated only after a problem occurs; nothing is done beforehand to prevent such a disaster and the promise of economic prosperity in a region that hosts a mine or other large potential pollutant is often offset by the potential damage. That is, at least until a disaster occurs.