Monthly Archives: June 2009

In Mexico City, water worries leave millions high and dry

June 23, 2009


MEXICO CITY- According to a new study, even bottled water isn’t 100 percent safe in Mexico City _ a sprawling metropolis stigmatized by Montezuma’s revenge, a tongue-and-cheek play on the last Aztec emperor’s name used today to describe the bouts of diarrhea visitors suffer from drinking bacteria-tainted tap water.


Scientists found six of the most popular brands of bottled drinking water in Mexico City contain traces of dangerous pesticides, raising questions about the long-term effects of living in the capital of 20 million.


The “Organochlorine Pesticides Residues in Bottled Water from Mexico City” study was conducted by researchers at the Metropolitan University of Xochimilco, in southern Mexico City. The report, published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology this month, found traces of sevent different pesticides in unnamed brands of bottled water from Mexico City.

Only one pesticide, hexachlorocyclohexane, or HCH, was found to exceed drinking water standards, however.


But even legally allowed trace amounts of pesticides are a problem because of “the potential exposure of large populations to low concentrations over long periods of time,” the study said. “Of particular concern are substances that may be carcinogenic and those that have a tendency to bioaccumulate in the organs.”


The authors of the Bulletin study have not revealed the brands of water they tested and declined to comment on their study. Their findings nonetheless raise concerns over what most Mexicans consider the safest source of drinking water.


Mexico is the second biggest bottled water market in the world, behind the United States. Mexicans drink an average of 59 gallons of bottled water every year, the highest rate per capita on earth, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a research and consulting group for the bottled water industry.


Mexico’s list of banned water pollutants is less restrictive than that of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization, said Marisa Mazari, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.


“Mexican regulations should guarantee that the water is fine to drink, but these regulations have to be continually updated,” Mazari said. “When it comes to pesticides the regulations aren’t working.”


Mazari, who was not involved in the Bulletin study, said that the levels of pesticides reported were “very low” but still noteworthy.


“Pesticides have serious health effects,” she said. “They can have reproductive side effects. Consuming pesticides can cause them to accumulate in fatty tissue and can have effects on the liver and kidneys.”


Mexico City draws 70 percent of its water from local wells and 30 percent from the Lerma River basin, Mazari said, meaning that both tap water and bottled water are vulnerable to pollution from landfills, gas stations, industrial runoff and agricultural drainage canals.


The study’s authors recommend the government better regulate the country’s burgeoning bottled water industry and update maximum levels of drinking water contaminants, especially pesticides.


Unlike in the United States, where bottled water in many places is an amenity, Mexicans drink bottled water largely out of necessity.


“Tap water is not recommendable anywhere in Mexico,” Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said.


Cordova said he was not familiar with the Bulletin study but was concerned about the quality of both bottled and tap water in Mexico.


He blamed bad bottled water on unscrupulous street sellers who fill bottles with tap water and sell them to unknowing customers.


Cordova, the Health Secretary, admitted that the government is having difficulty keeping track of bottled water produced in the capital.


“What happens is that on some occasions there are clandestine sales (of bottled water),” he said of the growing number of bottled water brands available in Mexico City.


There is, however, by law “a strict standard for (levels of) pesticides” in drinking water in Mexico, Cordova said.


With tap water still unfit to drink, Mexico City residents are left with few options other than trusting bottled water.


Tom Lauria, vice president of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), a trade organization for bottled water companies that is located in New York, said it has members that bottle in Mexico City, including Danone and Nestle – along with Coca Cola and Pepsi, the four major bottled water companies in Mexico.


“We certainly meet and sometimes exceed the regulatory standards of the FDA over bottled water, which are already extensive,” he said.


Bottled water is not “tap water in a bottle,” Lauria said. “It has to go through rigorous purification to meet government standards to be called purified.”


Meanwhile, questions linger over why the government has been unable to improve the quality of tap water.


The UN has water improvement programs in countries throughout Latin America, but not Mexico, said Laura Jaloma, Program Assistant for UN-HABITAT in Mexico.


“It’s because there hasn’t been any interest on the part of the government,” she said.


Many chilangos, as Mexico City residents call themselves, are suspicious of attempts to privatize, and theoretically improve, the city’s tap water. The World Water Forum, held here in 2006, brought fierce public protests, for example.


But without reliable tap water and with bottled water booming, the city’s water market has effectively already been privatized, Jaloma said.


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Charges of cross-border church abuses continue

June 18, 2009 

¶ MEXICO CITY – A victims’ group said Thursday that it was filing a new lawsuit in Los Angeles, California, against Mexican and U.S. church officials accused of sheltering a suspected pedophile priest.
¶ The lawsuit accuses Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera of conspiring with Roman Catholic officials in the United States to shelter Nicolas Aguilar, a Mexican priest wanted in California for 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child.
¶ This is the third lawsuit filed by the group, Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, against the Catholic Church for allegedly protecting Aguilar. Two previous lawsuits filed in Los Angeles against the Mexican cardinal by Mexican citizens were dismissed in 2007.
¶ This time, however, the unnamed plaintiff is a U.S. citizen.
¶ “In this case it was a North American boy molested in North American territory,” said Jose Bonilla, a lawyer for SNAP.
¶ Bonilla said he was “practically 100 percent sure” that the plaintiff, identified only as John Doe, would have his day in court. “But it’s going to be a long process,” he said.
¶ In addition to Cardinal Rivera, the lawsuit charges the archdiocese of Tehuacan in the Mexican state of Puebla, where Rivera worked at the time, the archdiocese of Los Angeles and the California Department of Education with failing to protect the plaintiff from Rev. Aguilar.
¶ Bonilla said the abuse occurred in 1988 while Aguilar was in Los Angeles. He said the new lawsuit will show Rivera transferred the priest to Los Angeles earlier that year even though he knew he had abused children in Mexico.
¶ Aguilar fled back to Mexico nine months later, where he continued working as a priest for years despite attempts to extradite him to the United States. He currently remains at large in Mexico.
¶ SNAP officials said they hoped the civil lawsuit might eventually lead to criminal convictions for church officials who had obstructed justice.
¶ “We think that there is at least some hope now,” said Joaquin Aguilar Mendez, SNAP’s Mexico Director and no relation to the accused priest.
¶ “We know that we can’t have justice as long as Nicolas, who abused so many, remains free,” he said. “No one has looked for him. I understand he is still working. He is still protected. But at least those who acted so negligently knowing who he was will pay for what they have done.”
¶ Aguilar Mendez was the plaintiff in the original lawsuit against the priest. In that lawsuit, also filed in Los Angeles against Rivera, Aguilar Mendez says Aguilar raped him in Mexico City in 1994. Aguilar Mendez was 12 years old at the time of the alleged crime.
¶ Aguilar Mendez said his own case against Aguilar is still pending in California. He said new evidence, including the taped testimony of Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, shows the two cardinals lied about their knowledge of the priest’s abusive past.
¶ The archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the U.S., settled almost 500 abuse cases for $660 million in July 2007, by far the largest payout in the church’s sexual abuse scandal. Aguilar Mendez said a dozen of those cases were against Rev. Aguilar, but that his case and the case of the unnamed U.S. plaintiff were not among them.
¶ “This is not over,” said Aguilar Mendez of his long struggle to bring the priest to justice. “I hope in the near future to finally see him seated (in court), being judged.”

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