Tierra Blanca, an Endangered Rural Community
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Yearly 1.2 people die in Tierra Blanca because of lung cancer. City councilor Osvaldo García noted that there was no budget during the current administration for social services in that rural community. Now, with the help of Mayor Mauricio Trejo, the Special Commission for Tierra Blanca has been formed to deal with the problem of deaths caused by cancer there.
The 500 inhabitants of Tierra Blanca were born there, and there they will die because they do not want to lose their identity. Although evacuating the zone is one of the last solutions to avoid developing lung cancer in that community, they say, “We do not want to leave our place, our roots. It does not make any sense because we have lived here forever, and if we move to another place, that will not prevent our deaths from lung cancer if it is already present in our bodies.” Dr. Marcos Ortega, the geologist involved in the investigation and a member of the Center of Geosciences from the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) Juriquilla campus, previously told Atención; It takes erionite 10-15 years to develop in people’s lungs, causing cancer and consequently a quick death.
Dr. Ortega also mentioned that the source of the erionite—the harmful mineral that causes the cancer—has been found two kilometers north of Tierra Blanca. Nevertheless, more investigation is needed to determine what percentage of the region is covered by the mineral. The results of that investigation will also be useful for proposing a new plan for the construction of the Autopista Bicentenatio which would cross near the area of the beta. The construction has made locals fearful that excavation could result in volatility of the mineral which could cause a public health problem. The expressway construction is currently enmeshed in a legal process because it threatens the heritage of the indigenous community both tangibly and intangibly.
After UNAM’s investigation, there were some quick options to help prevent the problem, like paving the streets, reforestation of the area, stopping the extraction of sand and gravel from the San Damian river—where the mineral has been dragged by the rainfall currents, stopping people from walking through the paths near the source of the erionite, and creating family orchards in backyards. The final option is the evacuation of the community, but there is no executive plan for this.
When city councilor Osvaldo García found no provision for social services in Tierra Blanca, he proposed that a special commission be formed to solve that community’s problem. The proposal was approved by the city council a few weeks ago. The commission is made up of city councilors Osvaldo García, Javier Álvarez, and assistant mayor José Luis Chagoyán. This group, along with state and federal authorities, will address the presence of cancer in Tierra Blanca and how to deal with it.
García told Atención that weeks ago the group had a meeting with Dr. Ortega to obtain more information about the problem, and they agreed to sign a contract with UNAM to formulate an executive plan to fight the problem in the short, medium, and long terms. The cost of that plan is still unknown. Nevertheless, García said it needs to be ready by the end of this year or during the beginning of 2015. The commission will also look to get financial resources to be applied to social services in the community. The lack of public works in Tierra Blanca is the responsibility of the Social Development, Ecology, and Urban Development Departments, noted García.
The presence of erionite was first detected in 1998 on the road from Guanajuato to Juventino Rosas.
From 2000-2012, 18 people have passed away (14 for lung cancer and 4 of mesothelioma)
Annually 1.2 people die because of cancer.
Recently, the Secretariat of Public Health conducted an investigation to locate cases of cancer, and they detected one. Dr. Marcos Ortega told Atención that that case belongs to the person who will die in the months to come.