Environmental Organizations Say Lead Levels Still Too High near Penoles Plant in Coahuila State

Article excerpt

A local environmental organization has sharply criticized the federal environmental-protection agency (Procuraduria Federal de Proteccion al Medio Ambiente, PROFEPA) for downplaying the extent of lead contamination caused by Grupo Penoles' Met-Mex plant in the city of Torreon. Met-Mex is Mexico's largest silver-processing plant.

Grupo Penoles was forced to significantly curtail production at the Torreon plant for several months in 1999 because of improper storage and disposal of industrial wastes, which were linked to cases of severe lead poisoning in surrounding neighborhoods (see SourceMex, 1999-05-26).

PROFEPA lifted restrictions on Grupo Penoles in March of this year after the Met-Mex plant completed cleanup operations and met other conditions imposed by the government (see SourceMex, 2000-03-01).

But critics contend PROFEPA failed to study the full impact of the Met-Mex operation, which caused much greater contamination in Torreon than originally determined.

Children show ill effects of lead contamination

One Torreon-based environmental organization said many area children continued to show high lead concentrations in the blood even after the massive cleanup by Penoles in areas near the Met-Mex cite.

The organization pointed to a recent study by the Instituto Tecnologico de Torreon and Spain's Universidad de Barcelona. Researchers conducted blood tests on 12,000 children in the city, 10,000 of whom had alarmingly high levels of lead concentration.

"The children whose blood has been tested continue to have high levels of lead," said Francisco Valdes Perezgasga, a spokesman for the Torreon environmental group.

Some local pediatricians support the concerns about the high levels of lead among children in Torreon. Local pediatrician Manuel Velasco Gutierrez said he has seen many children with concentrations of lead in their blood above 10 micrograms per deciliter. Children with lead concentrations at this level or higher face grave health risks, said the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).

"An 8-month-old baby who was born after the measures were taken had 33.3 micrograms of lead per deciliter," Velasco said in an interview. "It's like a barometer of the environment."

A report published earlier this year by Coahuila health authorities shows that more than half the 2,281 children and pregnant women tested in Torreon in 1999 had more than 25 micrograms of the metal in their blood. …