Mexico activates controls on dangerous chemicals

Mexico activates controls on dangerous chemicals

By Emilio Godoy

The blast on April 20 at the Clorados III plant of the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complex, in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, in the state of Veracruz, caused the death of 32 people and left 136 injuries.

“A fundamental problem is the handling of toxic chemicals. It is a country with few regulations and the list of regulated and supervised substances is small. There is a lack of regulations and inspections and reviews, "Robin Perkins, director of the Toxics program of the non-governmental Greenpeace, told IPS.

The plant, owned by the Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinyl (PMC) joint venture, produces 170,000 tons per year of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which generates dioxins and furans and two incinerators operate to destroy it.

These compounds, which come from the combustion of ethyl chloride, are harmful to human health and the environment, as determined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Vinyl chloride, considered highly carcinogenic, is in the form of a gas and a liquid, so when inhaled or in contact with the skin it can cause irritation, dizziness, headache and feeling faint, while long-term exposure can cause serious skin damage and liver damage.

Dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental problems, affect the immune system, and interfere with hormones. They are compounds that make up the list of dangerous persistent environmental pollutants (POPs) and that can enter the biota (set of living organisms in an area) and the food chain.

"It is important that they monitor these types of chemicals, not only through environmental samples but also in the biota, including exposed human populations, such as workers or neighbors," explained Fernando Díaz-Barriga, researcher at the Coordination for Innovation and Application of the Science and Technology of the public Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí.

To do this, he pointed out in a dialogue with IPS, "they should be looked for in sediments and soils."

For three decades, Díaz-Barriga has been studying the impact of these substances on human health and the environment, including the Pajaritos area, and the result has always been the same: high levels of toxic compounds and elements.

After the disaster, one of the worst in Mexico's history due to the possible emission of dioxins, Greenpeace experts took four samples of water, soil and dust in communities near the complex to detect contaminants.

The material is now analyzed at the British University of Exeter and independent laboratories their results will be known in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, Díaz-Barriga collected biota, soil and sediment samples two weeks before the explosion in the vicinity of the Pajaritos Complex to identify POPs in the area, near the port on the Gulf of Mexico and the mouth of a river.

The PVM company emerged in 2013 from an alliance between the private firm Mexichem, with 54 percent of its shares and which operates the plant, and the state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos, with 46 percent.

The accident is not an isolated event from the Mexican reality of harmful chemicals.

Photo: Two Greenpeace technicians take samples of the waters of the river that adjoins the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complex, in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where the Chlorados III Plant exploded on April 20, in an incident that left 32 people dead and 136 wounds. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

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