Clean Air: Impossible!
By Jesús Aguado
Fourteen brick kilns have been closed in the city; however, the four kilns of Nuevo Pantoja are pending, in a place where they fire their bricks with all kinds of trash—tires, plastics, and sticks. At this time, the construction of the parque ladrillero (an exclusive zone for firing bricks) is no longer in progress, nor is the process to get subsidies from the government or the creation of new employment sources for those people who pollute the air with their current survival source.
Pantoja, free of fumes
At least 50 residents of Flores de Begoña have permits from the National Commission of Water for fishing at the Allende dam. With the sale of fish products, they can maintain their family’s “quality of life.” That activity is in total contrast to that of Pantoja—the adjacent community—where the inhabitants survive due to the production of red brick (ladrillo or tabique). The production of this material for construction is nothing new in the area. According to Don Vidal, they have produced bricks in Pantoja since 1968, where they were relocated due to the construction of the Allende dam in the old community where his dad and grandfather had performed the same activity.
Vidal assured that in the community there are more than 30 kilns that support and “move” the economy of the zone because at each kiln there are from 20 to 25 employees with an average salary of 1,500 pesos per week. While the employees were moving raw pieces to the kiln, Vidal told Atención that they can sell up to 35,000 bricks weekly (1,600 pesos for every thousand pieces). Although the white brick (made of cement) had its boom, the red brick defeated it. Now it is in its best moment due to its resistance and color that makes “beautiful walls,” he says. The material is for sale at the Alamedas. Although the sales are growing, too many clients prefer going straight to the “factory.” Nine years ago the local government was part of the pollution problem because trash carts were used to take solid remainders straight to the kilns. Evidently the producers never commented about that to the Ecology Institute of Guanajuato nor to the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA). Until three years ago, all the brick makers of Pantoja were still firing with trash. For that reason they constantly received fines—from the PAOT (Attorney’s Office of Environment and Land-use Management)—that could go from 3,000 to 6,000 pesos. Finally, after paying fines and with the threat of closing their source of employment, they hired a lawyer who helped them to keep working. However, they made the commitment to change their methods to those permitted by the regulations. Nowadays their kilns do not pollute the air, and in less than five hours, 15,000 pieces are ready for sale.
Regardless of their commitment to the environment and their will to keep improving their methods and their kilns, as well as their commitment to the generation of employment, they are still waiting for subsidies from the government. The subsidy, said Vidal, could be at least for combustibles—a container with 300 liters costs 1,600 pesos.
Presa de la Cantera
Also known as Don Diego, the community of Presa de la Cantera has at least 10 kilns, and according to the neighbors they have been increasing and have never used ecological methods. They have always fired their bricks with trash and tires “and who knows what else,” commented Carmen Espinosa. The resident also commented that 10 years ago in front of the kilns were all kind of plastics with cheese remainders. Besides having a horrible odor, they were the “meeting point” for street dogs and cats looking for something to eat.
Another resident, Aurora Hernández said that they have been complaining about the pollution to the local authorities for several years, but there was never a response. “Sometimes we used to wake up at night with difficulties breathing because the fumes came into the house through the windows; nobody paid attention to the problem, until now.”
On August 12 PAOT conducted an operation for closing kilns. They closed five in Presa de la Cantera and 10 more between El Santuario de Atotonilco and Los Rodríguez. The kilns were closed for not respecting the Law of Preservation and Protection to the Environment in the state of Guanajuato. In addition, the producers were not observing the Technical Regulation for Environment NTA-IEE/2010, issued by the Guanajuato Institute of Ecology and published on the State Official Newspaper on February 7, 2012. The kilns did not comply with regulation specifications, so they closed by PAOT. They cannot open again until they can fulfill the regulations. Now PAOT is also giving the responsibility for those kilns and all of the others to the local government, which is the authority in charge of issuing land use permits for opening them, according to Environmental Attorney Juan Pablo Luna Mercado.
Nuevo Pantoja, the never-ending problem
The problem with the brick makers from Nuevo Pantoja—where there are more complaints about the air pollution—has been inherited from one administration to the other. It seemed that the administration headed by Luz María Núñez Flores (2009-2012) would have had reasonable achievements after receiving dozens of complaints from the residents of the nearby neighborhoods, who also channeled their complaints to the PROFEPA and started an organization called Aire Limpio. Núñez decided that the ladrilleros had to be relocated.
The local administration purchased five hectares of land on the new road to Guanajuato for relocation of the 100 brick makers of San Miguel de Allende and, of course, closed the kilns. The administration constructed three MK2 ecologic kilns. The producers, on the other hand, did not accept the proposal because the place was in the middle of nowhere, their production cost would increase, and the sale of their bricks, they said, would decrease. They also complained because the MK2 did not give a good result on the color of the bricks, which were orange instead red. Currently that project is abandoned. Luz María Núñez assured that the local administration had agreements with the Architects Association to buy the ecologic brick, but the president at that time, Alfredo Argueta, said that they did not have agreements and remarked that if the brick had bad quality, they would not buy it.
In 2012 when Mauricio Trejo Pureco was elected mayor, he had a talk with Atención on the topic of ladrilleros. He commented that it was all about “social justice” and that the government could not magically remove the source of employment from the people. The mayor assured,“ The solution will be the creation of alternative and better paid sources of employment because they are now receiving payment for what they are doing, and we are not going to take away what they have been doing for generations. We need to look for alternatives so they can stop performing that activity. We will try to access the federal subsidies (if there are any) and other resources for constructing ecological kilns. We will try to form a cooperative of brick makers who can work without polluting. How will we do that? We will work with investors and state and federal resources for having certified brick.”
A couple of years ago in Nuevo Pantoja, the brick producers relocated themselves but just went deeper in the hill, where they built three kilns. Now the production takes place in front of the closed kilns and then the pieces are transported and fired in kilns that are rented for 1,000 pesos. In areas near the kilns it is easy to see the remainders of tree trunks and trash for firing the bricks. When Atención visited the place, a firing was taking place in one of the kilns. There were five men with their faces covered with soot. It was easy to see the fire under the bricks. One of the men asked if it was time to add another tire, and yes it was time, so the tire rolled into the flames. These kilns were not inspected by PAOT, and the owners do not have a land use permit.
On the other hand, the organization Aire Limpio gave up in July 2013. On their Facebook page they posted,“ This Facebook page will continue indefinitely without maintenance. It will remain as a record of the ineptitude and irresponsibility of the authorities.”
The Technical Regulation for Environment NTA-IEE-001/2010 states that making pieces with clay “generates an important number of direct and indirect employments.” However, the kilns used for its production are generally located in zones where the population is impacted by the emissions of pollution produced by the combustible used. According to the regulation, the kilns in the urban zone ought to use only LP and natural gas. If the kilns do not use gas, they must be located at a parque ladrillero at least th2ree kilometers away from populated centers and 150 meters away from communication routes.