GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A group of activists has created what they call a Horror Tour of the Mexican municipality of El Salto, in order to raise awareness of the pollution in the Santiago River, which has caused countless deaths over the past few decades.
The tour travels through that area in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, where industries and the municipal garbage dump pour their toxic waste into the river, and the El Ahogado treatment plant, which is supposed to clean the water that will be consumed by local inhabitants, emits a putrid foamy stream.
Alan Carmona, a member of the Un Salto de Vida (Waterfall of Life) association, which is behind this project, told EFE that the tour is offered to schools, university students, civil organizations and even local inhabitants who are unaware of the dangers surrounding them.
“It’s not just to raise awareness; it is, above all, so people can visualize their place within this problem,” the activist said during a tour of the municipality, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco.
The tour reaches one of its worst features at Juanacatlan Falls, which divides Juanacatlan from El Salto, and which was once considered the “Mexican Niagara” for the vast volume and breathtaking beauty of its waters.
Today it is a waterfall of immense contamination with a smell that makes visitors scarcely able to breathe. The water carries the waste of 250 Mexican and foreign companies located in the El Salto area, and of more than 650 located along the river.
The waterfall has become a symbol of how companies in the region created jobs but exterminated the flora and fauna of the surrounding area, and harmed the locals physically, Carmona said.
Josue Daniel, 28, was diagnosed two years ago with kidney failure. Two of his cousins died recently from the same illness, and he has seen friends and neighbors suffer from the disease.
He recalls that as a boy he went to an elementary school near the river, which gave off “balls of foam” that filled the patio of the school and which the kids played with like toys.
The children always felt sick to the stomach and suffered constant headaches, locals said.
In 2012, environmental authorities found high levels of neurotoxic hydrogen sulfide near the school, though the study said its volume was within “normal parameters.”
Two years earlier, the Jalisco government inaugurated the El Ahogado water treatment plant to solve the problem. But the plant functions “at a level that does not guarantee that the waste will not affect the environment or people’s health,” said Cindy McColligh, doctor of social sciences at the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology.
Various studies have indicated a high concentration of heavy metals like lead, chromium, cobalt, mercury and arsenic coming from El Ahogado.
Greenpeace, meanwhile, found a presence of chemicals used in cleaning products that are “carcinogenic, can cause hormonal disruptions, cause damage and malformation of fetuses and to reproductive systems.”