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Dilemma for a Conflicted Community

By Jesús Aguado

The State Secretary of Public Health has informed citizens that the problem of cancer in Tierra Blanca de Abajo is not caused by erionite. According to this department, there is no scientific evidence. Nonetheless, local activists insist, remarking that the local, federal, and state authorities did not pay attention to the problem because it was an electoral year. They did, however, present advice that the three governmental levels must follow for decreasing the deaths caused by cancer or they must relocate the entire community.

Recently, a meeting was held in the city with representatives from the 27 indigenous communities to inform them of the status of the construction of the Autopista Bicentenario. It was said from the beginning that this would negatively impact archaeological zones, the environment, and the customs and uses of the region that it would cross in San Miguel. The construction has been canceled until now, thanks to the opposition of the indigenous people. In September last year, Governor Miguel Márquez Márquez stated that the road, which would connect with the industrial corridor of Guanajuato, would be constructed even if it were to damage “private and individual interests.”

The meeting was also attended by the researcher from the Institute of Geosciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Dr. Marcos Ortega. He has said that the deaths in Tierra Blanca de Abajo are caused by the volcanic mineral erionite, which is breathed into the pleura and hosted, later causing lung cancer and death.

Activist César Arias was present at the meeting. He suggested that the city councilors, who are allegedly interested in solving the cancer problem, schedule a meeting with federal, state, and local authorities along with the residents of the community for January of this year. Later it was canceled, and there have been no more notices of a meeting. For that reason, Arias urged the members of the city council to forget the electoral year for a moment and focus their attention on solving the health problem in Tierra Blanca, where cancer claimed its most recent victim, Vicenta Delgado, in January. Dr. Martín Millán, in charge of the Sanitation Jurisdiction in San Miguel, assured that Delgado passed away because of breast cancer, not lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Heleno Ramírez, inhabitant of Tierra Blanca, a widower because of Delgado’s death, commented that the authorities are not concerned with the problem and, since the residents have very low incomes from harvesting corn and beans during the rainy season as well as from extracting sand and gravel from the San Damián river, the government ought to help them at least with funeral services.

In the meeting, Dr. Marcos Ortega presented a list of options that the authorities should consider before thinking of relocating the residents. Among those considerations are reforestation of the area to avoid the mineral’s volatility; construction of houses with a material other than adobe, which contains the mineral in its composition; covering the streets with stones or other kinds of soil, like tepetate (limestone). Another option is to isolate the source of the mineral, which is situated three kilometers north of Tierra Blanca.

Ortega also commented that there are some medical considerations, like short-, mid- and long-term health programs for the residents which—according to Millán, already exist—besides a reliable register of death.


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