Politichicks reporter Michelle Mears took a tour of the border with Christopher Harris, along with radio host Don Dix from AM590, to see first-hand the situation brewing at the border. This is the first in a series of articles on the toxic sludge invading the United States, and literally threatening national security.
Border agents gear melted, surfers and children infected, military training diverted, wildlife poisoned
A brewing environmental disaster that has been percolating for decades may now threaten our national security. The threat is so large, it is affecting endangered species, protected wetlands, and local beach communities in California.
Border Patrol agents fear government officials and legislatures are ignoring the issue because of the grand scale of the problem. The expense to fix could be astronomical and it is easier to ignore than address the situation.
Media reports describe the millions of gallons of contaminated water flowing into the United States from Tijuana over the years and in recent months to be “sewage”.
However, during a tour of the border with Director-Legislative and Political Affairs for Local 1613 National Border Patrol Council, Christopher Harris, the sight and stench of something other than human waste and household garbage was permeating the air.
Harris exposed a riverbed along the Tijuana River that flows through Goat Canyon, littered with plastic bottles, tires, couches and other garbage on the U.S. side. The water was a glowing green, the sand around the water separated like an old tar roof and this strange chemical stench hung in the air mixed with the smell of human waste.
“This is third world sewage,” said Harris. “We believe there are chemicals, metals, toxins. I mean everyone thinks there is, but no one wants to test for it. We want the EPA to start testing.”
Are Treaties Being Violated?
The NAFTA trade agreement, according to The Environmental Health Coalition in San Diego, was supposed to hold polluting corporations responsible or to provide resources for environmental protection.
Toxic chemicals leaking into the United States are not new but those directly affected want it to end. Maquiladoras or foreign-owned factories in Mexico that import products made by lower-paid workers for export are known to take shortcuts in disposing of waste.
The most famous case involving Maquiladoras is the Metales y Derivados lawsuit, a U.S. owned maquiladora factory that recycled batteries imported from the U.S.. It took over ten years (1994 to 2008) to clean up the toxic waste. The EHC called this environmental disaster, “The poster child for the failure of NAFTA to live up to its negotiators’ promise to protect public health and the environment.”
“We need a champion to take this on,” said Oscar Romo, a professor at University of California San Diego. “Politicians take on this issue to get elected then let it go.”
Romo is with an organization, Alter Terra, a binational not-for-profit organization focusing on human and environmental health challenges found in the San Diego-Tijuana border region, with an emphasis on San Diego County Wetland Conservation.
“We need to create interest on both sides of the border,” said Romo. Romo and Harris said public interest with help from the media is needed to help fix this environmental disaster.
Romo referred to Carl Stokes the mayor of Cleveland in 1969, and the efforts he made to raise awareness about the industrial pollution in the Cuyahoga River. The Cuyahoga River caught on fire 13 times due to industrial pollution before making national headlines.
The national media had their reporters covering the story every day. Stokes became a national spokesperson on the water quality issues in Cleveland. In 1972, congress passed the Water Quality Act.
“We need a champion today like Stokes to take this issue to the highest level,” said Romo.
Toxic Spills Affect Agents, Public, and Ecosystem
On the days following the tour of the border on June 26 by Harris, millions of gallons of contaminated water rushed into the area covered near the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station area.
Testing by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control board reported the water as “contaminated,” not “sewage.” E-Coli bacteria were reported at levels exceeding the safe or nominal exposure limits.
Southern California and Mexico have not had recent rain, so the deluge of water was not storm related.
The sewage flowing from Mexico into Southern California via the Tijuana River and various entry points, including Goat Canyon, is so toxic it was melting Border Patrol Agents boots while sending others to the hospital.
Agents describe the spills as chemical warfare or biological warfare because it could create zones where the agents may not patrol.
This same water flows into the estuaries where endangered species live, as well as a state park and public beaches. The public is unknowingly traipsing through toxic sludge with sandals or bare beet.
“This is what my men and women are working in every day 24 hours a day 365 days a year. We had 30 plus agents who were recently contaminated and infected,” said Harris. “And it’s not just our guys who work down here, it is the mechanics who work on our trucks that are covered in this mud, the cleaning women in the cells who are cleaning up the dirt and mud, and the people who live down here, recreate down here, and traverse down here.”
Harris said an agent was hospitalized for methane after entering an area to document. The agent’s lungs were burning and temporarily damaged from the gas.
Border agents are not the only ones affected. The Navy Seals, who train in Southern California, have to be careful when they go in the waters south of Imperial Beach. Local residents and tourists who want to surf also have the same concerns on water safety.
According to Harris, the mayor of Imperial Beach is also concerned.
“The mayor represents a quintessential beach town but the water is polluted and people can’t swim. So it affects a lot,” Harris said. “We have not even got into the wildlife it affects, if it gets bad enough we will not be able to operate here.”
Harris also wants to bring awareness that downstream from Goats Canyon is property operated by California State Parks. State park officials load trucks filled with sand from an area where the contaminated water flows through. This sand is distributed to public beaches where families and children dig, run and play. Harris is concerned chemicals are contaminating the sand that make him and his agents sick.
Romo said the United States cannot wait for Mexico to fix their infrastructure. “If we want to solve this problem we need to see it as our problem,” said Romo.
Harris said this is a non-partisan issue and finger pointing is futile.
Video footage of toxic waters: