Laredo Morning Times
March 19, 2009
by Miguel Timoshenkov
NUEVO LAREDO - If the U.S. CBP Border Patrol resorts to using herbicide to eliminate the carrizo growing on the banks of the Rio Grande, border residents must be warned that they could suffer skin irritations, eye
problems - including possible blindness - respiratory distress and even cancer, Dr. Luis Eduardo Campbell Loa, head of this city's health department, said this week.
Carlos Montiel Saeb, head of the city's waterworks system, also expressed concern about Border Patrol's plan, saying that the pesticide would be used within about 450 yards of where the city draws water from the river for its estimated 500,000 residents.
"They have sent us a letter asking us to stop the pumps three hours before they spray the chemical," Montiel said at a news conference Tuesday.
"If the experts are so sure that there won't be irreversible damage, why are they asking us to stop pumping the water for the city?"
Campbell, Montiel, Nuevo Laredo City Councilman José Guadalupe Bautista and Environmental Director Gustavo Pantoja said at the news conference that they have raised protests with various U.S. federal agencies about the planned spraying, to little avail.
"But we will go to the necessary higher authorities and will seek support from the Mexican Consulate," Bautista said.
"We were at the meeting of the Laredo City Council (on Monday), where we laid out our concerns."
Bautista said the concerns were raised with the entire council, including Héctor J. García, Juan Narvaez, Johnny Rendon, Gene Belmares and Jose Valdez Jr.
"They (nevertheless) gave their approval, supporting the Border Patrol's request, but the problem is that we are sharing the same river," Bautista said.
"It can affect us on both sides and we believe that the utmost safety regarding collateral effects should be demonstrated."
The Laredo council members voting against the herbicide pilot project were Mike Garza, Cindy Liendo Espinoza and Mike Landeck.
Mayor Raul Salinas did not vote on the matter; the city charter allows the mayor to vote only in ties.
As a result of the council's decision, Border Patrol has permission to try a variety of methods to eradicate carrizo, including the controversial herbicide, on a 1.1-mile segment of the river.
Campbell and Montiel said the effects of the herbicide won't be known until the long term, and it's unknown how it will affect the international community.
At Monday night's meeting, photos and graphics were shown where the herbicide is to be used, including its effects on an area where a test spraying was conducted.
One of the photos showed the dead carrizo on the U.S. side, while the Mexican side was only slightly affected.
At the news conference in Nuevo Laredo, Bautista said a Laredo rancher expressed his concern that his land may have been used without his permission.
"The environmental impact that will be caused by the herbicide has not been fully explored, let alone the fact that it will remain three years in the subsoil and affect the water down 3 meters," Bautista said.
For his part, Montiel emphasized that Nuevo Laredo's water treatment plant can't eliminate the risks posed by the herbicide.
"We make the water potable (safe to drink), but we could not clean it of chemicals," Montiel said, adding that if the water is contaminated, the only way officials would know that is by means of laboratory tests on water samples.
Making the water potable involves removing sediment and other particles from the water, filtering it and treating it with chlorine to kill germs.
The Tamaulipas state water commission has sent a formal notice to the United States to not spray the herbicide near the city's water intake, Montiel said.
"The problem is that they will spray the chemical upstream, and the current will take it to the intake," Montiel said.
"They should not be experimenting at our expense."
He added that "so-called experts" have assured that they will block the intakes on the Mexican side, but Montiel warned that they should not attempt to invade Mexican territory and make such decisions.
That will not be allowed, he said.
Meanwhile, Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramón Garza Barrios was in Mexico City, expressing his disapproval of the U.S. side's unilateral action on the issue.
Pantoja, the city's environmental director, said the city will continue to seek redress from other federal authorities to revoke the dubious decision allowing the spraying of the herbicide.