Tijuana Border Dump Generates More Controversy

An old landfill in the northern Mexican border city of Tijuana continues drawing binational scrutiny. In a recent meeting, San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez expressed concern to a Mexican counterpart that the closed El Jibarito dump site could endanger public health on both sides of the border.

Felipe Ledezma, Tijuana city council member and president of the elected body’s environmental commission, said the possible run-off of contaminants from the dump in the direction of Playas de Tijuana and Imperial Beach in neighboring San Diego County was raised as an issue of concern.

Beach pollution is among numerous environmental hazards traced to El Jibarito. Situated adjacent to several working-class neighborhoods, El Jibarito was closed in 2002 but reopened in late 2013 by a private company operating under the new name Norbac until it was closed for business again last month. The waste facility has long been the target of protests waged by neighbors and the Agape group.

Activists have documented 800 cases of sick people, mainly women and children, who’ve experienced allergies, cancers, reproductive disorders, birth defects, respiratory problems, and anencephaly, a condition in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.  Local residents blame the ailments on the dump.

Ana Bella Aguilar, whose baby was born with anencephaly and died at birth when the mother was 18 years old,  said she was in good health around the time of her pregnancy five years ago when workers from the landfill moved machinery emitting strong odors only six feet from her home. “I would like to at least know what went on,” Bella said.

Maria Cristina Guicho, a young resident who is now stricken with thyroid cancer, said a doctor’s instructions to move away from the dump are complicated by her inability to work, the lack of money, and higher living costs in other parts of Tijuana.

“If I pay attention to her and don’t die of cancer, I could die of hunger,“ Guicho contended.

Albert Rivera, a pastor who works with residents opposed to the dump, assessed the environmental situation as grave. “We believe this is an environmental crime and somebody should go to jail,” Rivera demanded.

Community activists assert that their grievances have been answered with official neglect, bureaucratic foot-dragging and legal maneuvering.  Recently, however, activists convinced Tijuana’s municipal traffic department to slap fines on a company that was subcontracted to transport trash to El Jibarito.

But dozens of residents had much less luck with the legal system after they showed up in court to testify about the dump.  They soon witnessed their case thrown out on a legal technicality because the complaint was filed against the company under its previous name. Norbac then obtained a legal order shielding the company from additional lawsuits.

While the old dump still stands, some movement around the El Jibarito controversy is occurring in the different branches of the Mexican government.

The Tijuana municipal government is attempting to determine who was responsible for allowing the dump site to reopen last year without an environmental impact study and proper land use permit.
In a separate probe, the Federal Attorney General for Environmental Protection is investigating the exact nature of contamination at El Jibarito. Tijuana City Councilman Felipe Ledezma favors a permanent closure of the dump as well as an environmental remediation of the land.

Baja California State Representative Fausto Gallardo has expressed a similar opinion on the matter.

Sources: La Jornada, October 25, 2014. Article by  Antonio Heras. Laopinion.com, September 18, 2014. Article by Manuel Ocano.

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