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NAFTA increases chances to clean up polluted New River.

Buoyed by the recent passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Board of Supervisors of California's Imperial County, which is located on the international border with Mexico, submitted petitions to two federal government agencies requesting the federal government to take action to clean up the New River, a severely contaminate river flowing from Mexicali, Mexico into the United States at Calexico, California.

"The New River has been an environmental disgrace for over 50 years," stated Wayne Van De Graaff, the Chairman of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors. Riddled with comments of "considerable debris in river," "dead animal parts," "greasy globules," and even "a dead human body," inspection reports of the California Regional Water Quality Control Board document the significance of this international pollution problem. Limited monitoring data has revealed that fish in the New River contain high levels of PCBs and DDT which are associated with an elevated incidence of cancer, and that the New River is severely polluted with raw and partially treated sewage from Mexicali, Mexico. "Despite the evidence of severe pollution, the federal government has turned its back on the predominantly poor Hispanic population of Imperial County. County citizens are justifiably concerned about the potential health effects of the toxic and bacteriological pollution," stated Mr. Van De Graaf. The two petitions submitted by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors call on the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to take advantage of NAFTA as a forum for resolving this decades-old pollution problem with Mexican officials. Specifically, the petition under Section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requests EPA to require testing and assessment of chemicals found in the New River by the Mexican manufacturers and processors of the chemicals. When the full extent of the human health and environment risks is determined, Imperial County requests EPA to take appropriate action under TSCA or other federal laws to remediate the contamination. The petition under Section 104 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (also know as the Superfund law) asks the ATSDR to monitor the New River for hazardous substances and biological contamination and to perform a comprehensive health risk assessment of the New River. The petitions ask both agencies to work with Mexican officials in curtailing the dumping of toxics and raw or partially treated sewage into the New River and in developing long-term remediation measures, including the construction of a wastewater treatment plant. In addition, the Board of Supervisors of Imperial County and the Mexican State of Baja California signed a Memorandum of Understanding to address contamination in the New River. In particular, Imperial County and Baja California plan to work together to find immediate funding in Washington, DC and Mexico City for remediation of the New River and for an enhanced sewage treatment system. This may include a portion of some $500 million in EPA Wastewater Project Funds which Congress approved in fiscal year 1994 for special hardship cases, including Mexican border projects. This funding will be in addition to grants and loans from Mexican and multi-lateral bank sources and commercial project financing from Mexicali residents and companies.
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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