BY MELISSA ESPINOZA
Photo courtesy of The Chaparral. Reporter Ian James (far left) and a panel of experts on environmental issues speaking to attendees.
Global warming and pollution have become major topics of interest in recent years. On April 5, the Desert Sun together with the Comite Civico Del Valle Inc, sponsored by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, held a public event at the Desert Sun headquarters at 750 N. Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs.
“Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border” was a two-year investigation on the border cities of Mexicali and Calexico by journalist Ian James and photographer Zoë Meyers, which inspired this event. The initial study of the pollution of the New River uncovered alarming rates of air and water pollution by factories which are connected to respiratory illnesses and deaths in both Mexicali and Calexico.
Dr. Daniel Martin Tamayo, who was part of Ian and Zoë’s investigation, has seen an increase in children visits in his Mexicali medical office. He said, “Approximately five or seven years ago the main cause of medical consultation in the Mexicali General Hospital was infectious diseases, and now 80% of consultations are for diseases of the respiratory tract that are related to allergic components and environmental pollution,” said Dr. Tamayo.
The six and a half hour event was offered as a means to inform students and the local community on the critical issue of air pollution and the New River at the border of Mexico and the United States. The event featured panels of experts who talked about their work as environmental advocates and the importance of taking action now.
“I became a true advocate for our communities, to looking out for the best interest of our community, pollution has no borders, and that’s a true feeling that I have,” said Miguel Hernandez who works with Comite Civico del Valle, a non-profit for the outreach of disadvantaged communities and educates on civic engagement and environmental justice.
Also at the event, there were information booths of local organizations like Desert Defenders, the Department of Pesticide Control and the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District, which gave information about their work and different actions to help the environment.
Irma Flores, Communications and Community Relations Officer for the North America Development Bank, which offers assistance on the development of infrastructure projects to preserve the border regions between Mexico and the USA. “We are here to take advantage of this opportunity to present information about the work we do on the USA/Mexico border, we focus in sectors such as wastewater, air quality and energy we just want to share the information of being a good partner along the border,” said Flores.
Locals were able to learn and hear about the effects that pollution at the border would have on the residents there. Coachella Valley resident, Michelle Dugan-Delgados and Imperial Valley resident, Maggie Magallanes shared their personal stories at the event. Michelle has had asthma from a young age and continues to suffer from it now. She lost her younger sister Marie in 2009 due to a critical asthma attack while they were living at El Centro, Calif.
Magallanes, a single mom of two daughters, four and six suffer from respiratory complications. “They started having complications from breathing, especially my oldest one, my six-year-old. They were diagnosed with asthma after every six to eight months they [were] in the hospital because they had bronchitis, infections and high fever, so I have to nebulize them and give them extra medicine,” said Magallanes, “Comite Civico went to my house and gave me a three-day training to help my daughters have better health conditions, educate me on the environment, about the pollution in Mexico, the River, the Salton Sea. My entire life I’ve been living in the Imperial Valley and I’ve never had any health problems until my daughters started having complications breathing.”
Pollution is a problem that affects everyone and through this event, more information was shared to take action now because as of right now, it seems that more stories like “Poisoned Cities, Deadly Border” will continue to emerge. “I think that it’s a story that you could work on like for decades probably because there is going to continue to be pollution issues at the border, but it’s critical to create a story and put it out there so that people can hear about it and interact with it. In no way is this the end of the story just because we published this series, there is going to be more to come,” said Meyers.
After James’ and Meyers’ story was published, some small but significant changes have been made to help control the pollution at the border. “Since we published this series in December there have been several positive developments. One thing that happened was the California Air Resources Board decided that they are going to hire a high ranking official to oversee border air pollution issues, so they’re putting a greater focus on trying to figure out how to combat air pollution. The California Air Resources Board also decided to donate 50 low coast community air monitors, which are called Purple Air Sensors, which will be deployed in Mexicali and the Mexicali Valley,” said James, “There have been some positive developments, and we’ve also seen the federal government has increased funding for border sewer projects from 10 million last year to 15 million this year.”