Pierre Terras is a Toxic Campaigner in Greenpeace Mexico, and was part of the team that travelled to El Salto de Juanacatlán waterfalls for World Water Day to raise awareness of the toxic pollution that is destroying the Río Santiago. He wanted to share this story with you in order to shine a spotlight on the impacts this pollution is having on the environment and on the lives of local communities, and to show you why the work on the Detox Campaign is so important for people around the world.
When I first came to see El Salto de Juanacatlán waterfalls on the Río Santiago, the only things I knew were that there was a polluted river and community-based movements asking for a toxic-free environment.
I never expected such an apocalyptic landscape.
200 meters from the falls it is already hard to handle the smell. Getting closer, the gases and foams emitted from the cascading water gave me a pounding headache, nausea and a throat irritation. How can people live along this river?
Enrique, whose home is just five blocks from the falls told me:
"This is where we were born and we will die here. Hopefully before that day we can swim and fish in the river again, like when we were young."
We walked down the street towards the falls together, and he pointed to at least one house per block telling me of the people's stories: This person died of cancer. This kid suffers from leukemia.
I was shocked to see that there seemed to be hardly anyone older than 60 in this industrial city.
Río Santiago receives direct discharges from hundreds of industries that belong to a diverse range of sectors: from textiles, to chemicals, to electronics and pharmaceuticals. Already 50 km upstream, there is not a single fish in the biggest river in Western Mexico.
At the waterfalls, the whole cocktail of pollution gets mixed together in the water and in the air. No one knows what chemical reactions occur in this mix and local communities have no idea about what they are breathing in.
Curiously, when Greenpeace activists got into the kayaks on World Water Day, there was much more foam at the bottom of the falls than the day before.
"A couple of industries must have discharged during the night,” said Enrique. “I smelt something strange at around 3am."
I asked him which industries he thought it could be. "How could we know?" he answered. "The only thing we are sure about is that this toxic pollution killed our river, and now it is killing us."
Global problem, global action:
Campaigners like Pierre work tirelessly to lobby and persuade politicians in countries such as Mexico to improve legislation to eliminate the use and release of hazardous chemicals and to make sure that this legislation is properly and transparently implemented. But big companies also have a key role to play, as they can implement strict policies globally and work with their suppliers to make sure these are enforced.
As the Detox campaign has demonstrated, big brands linked to polluting practices listen when enough of their consumers and fans make their voice heard and demand change. And when brands act, and show that a future free of toxic chemicals is not only possible but preferable for people, planet and business – governments soon follow.
Take action today:
Share this story with your friends and family to help raise awareness of the problem of toxic water pollution.
Share the latest campaign video of #PeoplePower shaking up the fashion sector.
Enter your photo to star in the next #PeoplePowered campaign video while pushing your favourite brand to be the next to Detox.
(Photo: World Water Day At The Salto Waterfall. Copyright Ivan Castaneira / Greenpeace.)