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By Arnoldo Villagrán
The danger of highly toxic inorganic substances, such as mercury, arsenic and lead, has long been known. This type of pollution can be widely measured and observed in the Chinautla and Las Vacas rivers, which when flowing into the Motagua, pollute the banks of all the towns that it runs through, until it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
There are many inaccuracies regarding the problem of contamination of the Motagua River; supposedly because of the Las Vacas river hydroelectric plant, but the problem must be approached with much more seriousness. In the treatment that the Ministry of the Environment has given to the problem,
also glimpse, the struggle between the Government and the business sector over the issue of the production and distribution of
electrical power, which is the background to the problem.
Regardless that the company has violated some commitments assumed with the State, it does not mean that it is
the only one to blame for the damage to the environment. Nor is the interest to make an informal defense of businessmen, but it is necessary to know more about the bottom of the problem, which transcends the technical and political aspects, to know one of the largest and oldest problems of environmental degradation existing in our country.
Six years ago, in San Antonio las Flores, municipality of Chinautla, department of Guatemala, the construction of a hydroelectric plant began, with investment from well-known businessmen. The reservoir captures the flow of the Las Vacas river. This dam retains and accumulates the majority of solid waste: plastic containers, tires, organic remains, etc. that are washed away by the river, and that no longer flow into the Motagua River, which constitutes a benefit. However, the presence of contamination by chemical agents spilled in the water continues. In the dam, there is a system of bars that separate the bodies and solid waste, not allowing them to enter a tunnel, 1.4 meters wide and that conducts water for 7 kilometers to the turbines, for the generation of electricity.
In the environmental aspect, the company considers that there will be no negative impact of the work, because a plan has been initiated for the complete reforestation of the dam area (3 caballerias), with local species, which will maintain the ecological balance. This reforestation plan will contribute in the medium term to improve the conditions of the eroded land, balancing the ecosystem to some extent, attracting wildlife species that have migrated. It also creates secondary effects that are not necessarily environmental, since the road that leads to the population and later to the project, will be improved, therefore it will affect the movement of vehicles and people, to and from the capital.
Chinautla and Chuarrancho are irrigated by the Chinautla and Las Vacas rivers; the latter joins the Plátanos river to flow into the Motagua. The high degree of contamination of these tributaries has been known for decades, with materials such as microorganisms, chemical products, industrial waste and other types; or wastewater as it has become the large drains of the capital city of Guatemala and peripheral municipalities; as well as waste from industrial activities. These materials deteriorate the quality of the water and make it useless for domestic, agricultural or animal use.
The main pollutants are wastewater and other bodies that demand oxygen; those that are mostly organic matter, whose decomposition produces the deoxygenation of the water. Infectious agents such as plant nutrients can stimulate the growth of aquatic plants, which in turn interfere with the uses to which the water is put and, when decomposed, deplete dissolved oxygen and produce unpleasant odors. The main nutrients come from the waste discharged into the drains, by the activities of a well-known coffee mill, in zone 6 of the city. Waters also contain chemicals, including pesticides, various industrial products, surfactants contained in detergents, and the decomposition products of other organic compounds.
Eutrophication, which occurs when water is artificially enriched with nutrients, causes abnormal plant growth and chemical fertilizers carried by the water from crop fields may be responsible. The eutrophication process can lead to cosmetic problems, such as bad taste and odor, and an unsightly accumulation of algae or verdigris, as well as dense growth of rooted plants, oxygen depletion in deeper water and accumulation sediment at the bottom of rivers, as well as other chemical changes, such as the precipitation of calcium carbonate in hard waters.
There are also petroleum derivatives, especially that from accidental spills. Inorganic minerals and chemical compounds, such as sediments made up of soil particles and minerals washed away by storms and erosion; unprotected soils, mining operations, roads and urban debris. Radioactive substances from industrial, medical and scientific use are added, coming from waste from national and private hospitals, as well as from different radiological clinics and biochemical laboratories. Heat can also be considered a pollutant when the discharge of the water used for cooling factories raises the temperature of the water from which they are supplied.
The effects of water pollution include those related to human health, such as gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory diseases and skin. The presence of nitrates (salts of nitric acid) in water can cause childhood illnesses that are sometimes fatal. Cadmium present in fertilizers derived from silt or sludge can be absorbed by crops; if ingested in sufficient quantity, the metal can cause an acute diarrheal disorder, as well as damage to the liver and kidneys. The danger of highly toxic inorganic substances, such as mercury, arsenic and lead, has long been known. This type of pollution can be widely measured and observed in the Chinautla and Las Vacas rivers, which when flowing into the Motagua, pollute the banks of all the towns that it runs through, until it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The management of solid waste through treatment plants has not been a priority for governments; despite being an environmental and health problem. For that reason, and very close to the capital, Lake Amatitlán is inexorably dying; in the same way the lakes Petén Itzá, Atitlán, Izabal and Laguna de los Pinos. Victims of the lack of an environmental strategy and preventive health policies; as well as education and training related to the subject. The Government does not transcend diagnoses and matrices; the municipalities claim a lack of financial resources and seek donations for its establishment, in order not to (1) assume the political cost of charging a fee; the private initiative is weak entrepreneurially, since the activity is carried out by micro-entrepreneurs who work inefficiently; For its part, the community does not have a culture of solid waste treatment, and the lack of public collection has a negative effect, since a large part of the population does not have the ability to pay.
Likewise, the absence of inter-institutional coordination, the lack of planning and the non-compliance with the laws and norms that define the functions of each institution, prevent knowing the needs of human, technical, physical and financial resources, hinder the provision of technical assistance and grant credit to municipalities, and hinder the control of impacts caused by solid waste to the environment and health.
"In the legal framework, there is a series of scattered laws, codes, regulations and other instruments, which causes problems regarding the application of the laws, the limitations of the legislation and the control mechanisms, the variability of parameters to establish sanctions, conflicts between legal regulations and gaps in existing legislation "(2). Regarding the trained human resources, there are not all the personnel that can take charge of the solid waste management systems in the operational, administrative and professional fields in the institutions.
Environmental degradation in Guatemala is one of the serious problems that should be present on the Government's Agenda and become State policy. Currently a ministry is operating without sufficient resources or strategies to confront this scourge. These problems manifest themselves in various ways and in different forms. In almost all human activities, aggression and disrespect for the environment is involved.
Environmental degradation runs through all human activities; where the solution must be assumed in a comprehensive manner, by the Government as a whole, developing public policies that become long-term strategies to solve problems that have been coming for decades. The problem has to do with agriculture, communications, commerce, housing, health, transport, defense, finance, economy and politics.-EcoPortal.net
(1) National Environmental Commission. Analysis of the problem of solid waste. Taken from the CONAMA website