Funds to clean up environment on Mexican border go unused Money made available as part of NAFTA

April 30, 1996|By NEWSDAY

JUAREZ, Mexico -- More than two years after the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, making available billions of dollars for toxic cleanup along the border with Mexico, not a single environmental project has been launched with those funds, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

Meanwhile, factories called "maquiladoras," mostly foreign-owned, continue to multiply in communities along the environmentally besieged frontier, although the landmark trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico was supposed to push industry into the Mexican interior.

In Juarez, a proposal for the city's first sewage treatment plants -- at a cost of $40 million -- has been shelved because of Mexico's economic troubles. As a result, six open canals absorb the raw sewage of this city of 1.2 million and its more than 350 maquiladoras.

About 55 million gallons of untreated waste are dumped into the Rio Grande here every day; the river is so contaminated with human waste that skin contact threatens exposure to cholera, hepatitis and dysentery, experts said. Already, hepatitis rates on the border are still two to five times the U.S. national average.

"It's really hard to say that the environment in Mexico or in the U.S. along the border has improved," said Chris McGinn, deputy director of Global Trade Watch, the environmental arm of the Washington-based consumer group Public Citizen. "It hasn't. The water's dirtier. The air's dirtier. There's increased improper disposal of hazardous waste."

NAFTA essentially broke down trade barriers between the three countries and, during heated negotiations on the accord, the Clinton administration maintained that $8 billion would be spent over the next decade to clean up the increasingly industrialized border.

The Mexican government would not say how much it had spent on its own environmental projects over the past two years. But it admits that cleanup and environmental regulation in Mexico's north were set back by the recession.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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