On August 6, a cocktail of more than 40 million cubic liters of sulpheric acid and heavy metals leaked out of a contention dam at the Buenavista Copper mine in the town of Cananea. The spill contaminated the Bacanuchi and Sonora rivers, which run more than 270 kilometers.
“With the program we have developed, ‘Lets Save the River,’ we can all organize to save the Sonora River, we can form brigades that will also receive payments for those who are unemployed right now,” said Sonora governor Guillermo Padrés Elías in a town hall meeting in Baviacora, one of the seven municipalities affected by the spill.
However, many citizens say that the promise isn’t enough. They want the mine owner, Grupo Mexico, to be held fully responsible.
“To me it is a joke that they come to offer temporary employment, cleaning up the muck that Grupo Mexico, and no one else, left!” says Patricia Ortega, a longtime resident of Baviacora. “To me it seems unfair that they want me to go and earn my daily bread by cleaning that poison.”
Economic activity has come to a complete standstill as authorities and Grupo Mexico struggle with a cleanup that could span over decades. A large majority of those affected work in agricultural and livestock, both of which depend on clean supplies of water.
Late last week agents of Mexico’s Federal Prosecutor, raided the offices of Grupo Mexico as part of an investigation into the toxic spill. However the company announced today that none of its activities have been affected.
Although federal and state authorities vow to hold the company responsible for the disaster, they say that, for now, they will apply heavy fines rather than close the mine — considered the biggest copper mine in the world.
In a press conference last week Mexican environment and natural resources secretary Juan Jose Guerra Abud affirmed that the state would apply sanctions but not close the mine.
“We can not stop or slow down economic activity. We need to direct it, and we need to facilitate economic activity when it meets environmental standards,” he said.