Agreement still pending between brick makers and administration
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Dealing with the pollution from the brickkilns located in Nuevo Pantoja is a problem that has been passed down from one administration to the next. At least 50 families depend on this industry to make a living, but the smoke from the kilns pollutes the air in the city and poses a public health problem that must be solved. In early 2012 Aire Limpio (Clean Air), a nonprofit organization, was formed and members complained about the air pollution to the local government through letters and emails. The organization has not been as active of late because the administration has had talks with the brick producers and informed Aire Limpio that they are close to relocating the brick makers to the Parque Ladrillero in San Isidro Capadero. Aire Limpio posted on its Facebook page that “the local authorities have made public their commitment to solving this problem in March. After this, the kilns should not exist in Nuevo Pantoja. Aire Limpio trusts in this administration and believes that they will fulfill their commitment.” Nevertheless, some of the families who depend on these kilns for their livelihoods talked to Atención and said that they will not accept relocation and to avoid problems with the neighbors they have relocated their kilns deeper into the hills of Nuevo Pantoja.
The brick makers
Don Guadalupe Ramírez, a 61-year-old resident of Nuevo Pantoja, remembers that his family used to live on the grounds currently occupied by the Presa Allende. When the reservoir was constructed in the 1960s, his family was relocated to Pantoja (located on the road to Celaya), and in 1975 they moved to Nuevo Pantoja, where they built a kiln and continued producing bricks. According to Ramírez, 15 years ago “public servants from Guanajuato came to inspect and they closed down our kilns (two were located near La Lejona Section 1 and two at the entrance to Nuevo Pantoja); among those kilns was mine.” Don Guadalupe said that the owners of those closed kilns built new ones deeper in the same community and he decided to rent a kiln in Pantoja, where the last time he fired bricks he was paid 700 pesos, “but sales were not that good; I did not have enough income so I quit doing it,” he said.
Patricia Hernández (an alias) said, “I did not know how to make bricks, but I had to learn when I got married. My husband started helping his parents make bricks when he was three years old. Now, for 18 years I have been helping him so we can make a little bit more money.” Hernández commented that when there is a large demand for bricks she and her husband can make 1,000 bricks a day for a payment of 260 pesos “but only when there is demand for it. Sometimes there is nothing. I used to work as a domestic employee at times, but there are no jobs nowadays. They do not want to hire me,” she commented. Señora María Valdéz (an alias) is a 28-year-old resident from Nuevo Pantoja who dropped out of school and started making bricks 20 years ago. She has two sons who attend a school near the place she works. Other brick makers told Atención that they are making ladrillos (bricks) because there is no other source of employment in the city. Sometimes they try to cross the border to the US, “but sometimes we are not lucky and we have to come back and work at something, and this is a family business.” All of them commented that even if they are asked to relocate they will say no.
Currently there are more than 100 kilns in San Miguel, according to a register from the local government; 36 are located in Pantoja, 12 in Flores de Begoña, 9 in Presa de la Cantera and 6 in Nuevo Pantoja. In April 2012, a group of sanmiguelenses from the neighborhoods next to Nuevo Pantoja began sending letters and emails to the 2009–2012 administration complaining about the air pollution and the fumes from burning tires and plastic that filled their houses during the night, causing them respiratory problems. Luz María Núñez, the mayor at the time, received dozens of messages in her personal email. One of them stated: “Since I moved here I have had respiratory problems and a doctor from Querétaro told me that it is because of the air quality in San Miguel, which is bad even without the burning in Nuevo Pantoja.”
One author of an email stated that the firing of bricks started one day at 4am and there was no place in the house where he could go without his nose, throat and eyes burning, even with the windows and doors closed. Others wrote that they were even considering moving out of San Miguel. The same messages and other letters were sent to the PROFEPA (Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection).
Mayor Núñez replied to some of those messages and announced that land had been purchased for relocating the ladrilleros (brick makers). The agreement to buy the land had been made by the previous administration but it had to be paid for during hers. She also mentioned that her administration was holding talks with the ladrilleros to come to an agreement about relocating to Parque Ladrillero and using new, more ecologically sound kilns called MK2. “I understand your concerns, and we are about to end this problem,” she said, and also wrote in that email that the local government had talked with the suppliers of tires and plastic for the ladrilleros and they stopped selling them those items. According to that email, once the MK2 kilns were operating the administration would ask the ladrilleros to sign an agreement to demolish their kilns, “and that will be your best guarantee that there will not be more brick firings in Nuevo Pantoja.” Not much progress had been made, however, by the time Núñez left office.
The PROFEPA, according to the ladrilleros, inspected the kilns last year, “but they did not close them. We decided to relocate them deeper into the community to avoid problems with the neighbors,” said one of the brick producers. At the entrance to the community there were two kilns operating; last year, one of them was demolished and the second is not in use anymore. Currently three ladrilleros form their bricks on the grounds behind El Secreto but fire them on the other side of the river.
New proposals from the government
Víctor Velázquez, director of the Ecology Department, commented that they have been receiving more complaints about air pollution because of the kilns. He said that the firings take place every 15 days and that even if this activity generates pollution it does not exceed levels set forth by the Institute of Ecology, and that the Ecology Department does not have the authority to shut down the kilns, only the PROFEPA. Velázquez commented that currently the local government is talking with the producers to reach an agreement on relocation, which could happen in March when two more MK2 kilns are finally constructed.
According to Velázquez, “We will reach an agreement with the brick producers. We will perform the necessary tests in the new MK2 kilns and I think that there will be a good result because they have been listening to our proposals.” The director commented that Mayor Trejo also talked with the leaders of the ladrilleros, who will carry the message to the rest of them. However, the brick makers want to convince the local government to construct the MK2 kilns in Nuevo Pantoja. Velázquez said that the administration may be willing to construct some MK2 kilns in Nuevo Pantoja but the final decision will be made by the administration. “Our talks have been cordial; we understand them, but we want them to understand that we have the final say. We only need one final meeting with them and Mayor Trejo,” said Velázquez.
When Atención talked with the brick producers they acknowledged that they have had several meetings with personnel from the local administration and even with Mayor Trejo, who proposed that they work for the administration making bricks in the MK2 kilns for a monthly salary of 6,000 pesos paid to the owners of the kilns. “But that is less than I make here,” said one of the producers, who also commented that currently there are 10 brick producers in Nuevo Pantoja and only three of them are willing to embrace the relocation. “If the MK2 kilns can decrease air pollution, why don’t they build them here for us?” he asked. The brick makers said that they do not trust the mayor’s proposals.
Aire Limpio informed Atención that “after a long fight to solve this problem of pollution generated by the kilns from Nuevo Pantoja, this group has official and public commitment from the local administration to resolve this problem by the end of March. In order to avoid interfering with the negotiations between the authorities and the brick makers, we are keeping a low profile and discreetly monitoring this process.”