Mexican Copper Mine Contaminates Both Sides of the Border—Toxic Drinking Water

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Aug 12, 2014 12:14 AM EDT

While researchers at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) are studying the results of a 140-cubic-foot oil spill in the North Sea, to identify issues and rapid response in the first 24 hours after a major spill, the Mexican government is far more preoccupied with a much more real situation of pollution near the American border. Only 25 miles south of the Mexican-American border in the province of Cananea, federal officials have reported that approximately 10 million gallons of toxic wastewater from the Buenavista copper mine have entered into nearby rivers, contaminating drinking water and causing massive die-offs in local fish/plant species.

Although the affected cities, which span throughout the northern Mexican state of Sonora, only derive approximately three percent of their potable freshwater from the river, nearly 800,000 people have been reported to have been affected by the contamination and government officials have now intervened to look into the ramifications o f the spill.

As a state primarily known for geological mining of precious and heavy metals, Sonora has grown in terms of population size vastly as the state privatized energy production and mining. This large spill, caused primarily by heavy rains late last week, is not only affecting fish and livestock surviving off of the poisoned water, but also nearly a million of Mexico's citizens.

Publically denying rumors that the wastewater included trace amounts of cyanide believed to have been used in the copper mining at Buenavista, the privately-owned mines by the Buenavista del Cobre company are not disclosing what sort of contamination has seeped into the tributary river, however, are now facing serious charges by the Mexican government.

PROFEPA, Mexico's primary government-controlled environmental agency, is blaming Buenavista del Cobre for negligence on their behalf, and have issued orders for the company to neutralize toxins within the water, analyze the contamination level of the public's water and construct dams and levies to prevent further incidents from occurring in the near future.

"In addition to ordering the implementation of a total remediation plan, PROFEPA [has] initiated proceedings against Buenavista del Cobre to determine possible sanctions" the agency announced this morning.

In an attempt to prevent further illness and fatalities from the poisoned water, Mexican federal officials have restricted water deliveries to urbanized areas, and will continue these restrictions until trace toxins are determined to return to potable levels.

As of now, removing toxins from the river is the primary concern for PROFEPA. However, questions have yet to be addressed whether aquifers beneath the river, which provide well water across both sides of the Mexican-American border, will be contaminated as well.

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