Monday, March 26, 2007

EPA blows whistle on Tohono O'odham officials over hazardous dump

US EPA blows whistle on Tohono O'odham officials over hazardous dump

Tohono O'odham officials knew of a hazardous dump planned for the ceremonial community of Quitovac, Sonora, in 2005, but never told the O'odham people

By Brenda Norrell

QUITVOC, Sonora, Mexico -- The U.S. EPA has blown the whistle on Tohono O'odham Nation officials in Sells, Ariz., revealing that tribal representatives were informed of the planned hazardous dump for the ceremonial community of Quitovac, Sonora, in Oct., 2005.

O'odham in Sonora were never told about the planned dump by the tribe. They found out about the dump by way of whistleblowers to the media in April, 2006 -- seven months after the EPA informed the tribe in Arizona.

The dump, 25 miles south of the border, was planned in secret and permitted by the government of Mexico in 2005, without the O'odham community's knowledge. The planned dump, has not yet been granted a municipal permit from Sonoyta, Sonora.

Tohono O'odham Nation Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders has declined comment on when she first learned of the dump.

If constructed, the dump planned by the company CEGIR would allow US companies to dump hazardous waste in Mexico, rather than returning it to the US. Under an international agreement, hazardous waste from Mexico's maquiladores, infamous for their human rights and labor abuses, is to be returned for disposal to the country where the raw materials were produced.

O'odham have been joined by the other residents of the state of Sonora to protest the dump, including residents of the nearby popular tourist beach destination of Puerto Penasco.

The Tohono O'odham Legislative Council passed a resolution in June, 2006, opposing the dump. During the Zapatistas Other Campaign in Magdalena, Sonora, in October, O'odham from Sonora urged Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas to support efforts to halt the dump.

O'odham in Sonora are hosting an event on March 31, 2007, in Quitovac to organize protection of the sacred site where annual ceremonies are held. Further, the US border wall would be a barrier to the traditional ceremonial route. The O'odham communities are dissected by the international border.

E-mail from US EPA:


Ms Norrell,
I'm sorry that it has taken so long for me to get back to you. Here's the history of when the Tohono O'odham Nation found out about CEGIR, as I have heard it:

September, 2005 - EPA received a letter from Mexico regarding the

October, 2005 - EPA shared the letter with the AZ/Sonora Waste and
Enforcement task force, including Tohono O'odham representatives.

March 8, 2006 - Mexico informed the AZ/Sonora Waste and Enforcement
task force during a meeting held in Rio Rico, Az. Tohono O'odham
tribal governance members attended this meeting.

April 24-26, 2006 - Mexico again discussed with representatives of
the Tohono O'odham Nation during the National Border Coordinator's

U.S. EPA has since had several meetings and calls with
representatives of the Tohono O'odham Nation regarding this topic,
including a face-to-face meeting with the Tribal Council in
September, 2006.

I understand that the Nation has also requested a meeting directly
with the Mexican government (SEMARNAT), but has not received a
positive response.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.


Previous news article, November 2006:

U.S. EPA Complicit in Secret Hazardous Dump in O’odham Territory
a report by Brenda Norrell
U.N. OBSERVER & International Report

2006-11-15 QUITOVAC, SONORA, Mexico – O’odham in Mexico are outraged that the U.S. EPA is minimalizing the dangers of a hazardous waste dump planned near O’odham communities and continuing its pattern of assisting corporations to target Indigenous lands for toxic and hazardous dumping. O’odham community members and Greenaction said the U.S.

EPA’s final environmental assessment of a planned hazardous waste dump here “is not only incomplete and inaccurate in many aspects, but is a blatant violation of EPA’s environmental justice and trust responsibilities to Native Nations and their people.”

Privately-owned CEGIR plans to build a hazardous waste dump near Quitovac, where O’odham hold annual spiritual ceremonies in the heart of O’odham territory, and where community members reside. The dump was kept secret from the O’odham until whistleblowers exposed it in February of 2006. In secret last year, Mexico issued a federal permit for the dump in October. The U.S. EPA was aware of this, according to documents now exposed.

Pima County officials in Arizona said this violated an international agreement, the La Paz agreement, which required Mexico to inform Arizona officials of the dump, due to its proximity to the border. The site is 25 miles south of the international border and Arizona. Currently; the dump is halted for the lack of a municipal permit in nearby Sonoyta, Mexico.

The Tohono O’odham Nation in Sells, Ariz., passed a resolution opposing the dump in June of 2006, pointing out its concern for local water sources and hazardous and toxic pollution to O’odham in Mexico and the United States. Tohono O’odham tribal communities are dissected by the international border.

The U.S. EPA’s final assessment, released Tues., Nov. 14, reveals the hidden agenda of the project and the Border 2012 Project. The dump would be a hazardous waste disposal site for companies in northern Mexico, which are currently transporting this waste to the U.S. for dumping. By international law, factories (maquiladoras) in Mexico using raw materials from the U.S. must return the resulting hazardous waste to the U.S. for disposal. O’odham say this reveals a typical act of government and corporate genocide: The governments of Mexico and the U.S. want to dump hazardous waste in an Indigenous community, an O’odham community where sacred ceremonies are held each year.

“EPA’s environmental racism to Indigenous peoples must come to an end, and helping to protect Quitovac is a place to start”, said Ofelia Rivas, O’odham tribal member. The U.S. EPA’s assessment dramatically underestimates the potential impacts from possible accidents, explosions, toxic clouds and other air emissions associated with the proposed facility, O’odham and Greenaction said.

The O’odham community of Quitovac is only 12.9 miles from the proposed site, and any major accident or toxic pollution carried by the wind would have a strong potential for disastrous impacts on Quitovac and the O’odham. In its summary statement, the U.S. EPA said impacts to surface and groundwater are “unlikely”. Although the U.S. EPA said the impacts to air pose a risk of toxic and hazardous airborne pollution in the United States, the EPA said those could be mitigated by an emergency response plan. However, in the final assessment, the U.S. EPA states that it only considered water impacts in the U.S., not local water contamination in Sonora, Mexico.

The U.S. EPA also admits that it did not evaluate the dangers posed by hazardous waste transportation through local communities in Sonora, since the U.S. EPA was concerned only with U.S. residents. The EPA’s assessment was prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.

Expressing outrage over the U.S. EPA’s ongoing complicity in the corporate dumping of toxic and hazardous waste on Indigenous lands, a statement of opposition was immediately released by the O’odham Rights Cultural and Environmental Justice Coalition, a grassroots organization of O’odham peoples from the U.S. and Mexico, and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. “The US government’s own Executive Order on Environmental Justice directs the US EPA to consider environmental justice impacts in its own actions. The US government also has an explicit trust responsibility to protect the interests and people of Native Nations within US borders”, said the statement released by O’odham Ofelia Rivas and Greenaction’s Bradley Angel.

“The US EPA’s assessment completely ignores the devastating impacts a hazardous waste landfill would have on the culture, traditions, health and spiritual-well being of O’odham people, including those who are US citizens, for whom Quitovac is an extremely important sacred site that is central to their beliefs and spirituality.”

In its opposition to the dump, the Tohono O’odham Nation questioned the impact on community water wells in Quitovac, Las Norias and other O’odham communities in Sonora and expressed concerns over design, processing and pollution.

The U.S. EPA, in its final assessment, said the government of Mexico should mitigate concerns with the Tohono O’odham Nation. The U.S. EPA said Mexico should also consider the effect on migratory birds, especially storks that could be attracted to the hazardous waste dump ponds. Although CEGIR’s plan does not allow for radioactive or nuclear waste to be dumped at the proposed site, O’odham point out that there is minimal, if any, actual federal inspection and control of hazardous waste dump sites in Mexico.

O’odham and Greenaction said, “Both the Tohono O’odham tribal government and grassroots tribal members including traditional and ceremony leaders have made it clear to the US EPA, verbally and in writing, that the building of a hazardous waste facility near the sacred site of Quitovac would be devastating and unacceptable. “The US EPA has clearly ignored this information from the O’odham Nation and tribal members, as their assessment merely mentions that Quitovac has cultural importance. The EPA’s assessment fails to even mention that they have received significant information from representatives of the O’odham traditional and ceremony leaders, even though this information was given directly to the EPA by O’odham leaders. “Impacts on Quitovac would impact O’odham who are US citizens in numerous horrible ways, and the US EPA’s assessment should have emphasized this and upheld this view. The negative impacts on the O’odham cannot be mitigated, and the proposed landfill must be sited in a different, safer and more appropriate location with improvements in its design and operational plan. The US EPA’s environmental justice and trust responsibilities have been violated once again,” O’odham and Greenaction said.

“We call on the US EPA to amend its assessment to accurately reflect all the impacts on the U.S. from the proposed landfill in Mexico, including all the sacred site, cultural, spiritual, health and environmental impacts that have been brought to the EPA’s attention.”

By Brenda Norrell U.N. OBSERVER & International Report

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