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Environmental Justice at the U.S.-Mexico border: California/Baja California Region

doi: 10.1097/01.ede.0000339555.87869.85
Abstracts: ISEE 20th Annual Conference, Pasadena, California, October 12–16, 2008: Symposium Abstracts

Abstracts published in Epidemiology have been reviewed by the organizations of Epidemiology. Affliate Societies at whose meetings the abstracts have been accepted for presentation. These abstracts have not undergone review by the Editorial Board of Epidemiology.


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The California/Baja California border is a region characterized by a growing manufacturing and trade base, extensive agriculture that relies heavily on migrant workers, significant in-migration, and rapid and poorly planned urbanization. The San Diego-Tijuana region near the Pacific Ocean has a transborder metropolitan population of some 4.5 million. The Imperial Valley-Mexicali Valley region, with its desert agricultural cities, has a binational population of nearly 1 million. The most pressing environmental issues in the region include poor air and water quality, and inappropriate use and disposal of toxic chemicals. The EPA Border 2012 report details the environmental goals for the USMexico border area, which include improved water and air quality, reduced land contamination, reduced exposure to chemicals, and improved compliance, enforcement and pollution prevention. Exacerbating the difficulties of improving environmental quality of the border area are differing levels of economic development and differing legal and regulatory systems for environmental quality and occupational health across the region. Significant disparities in exposures to pollutants and in access to clean water remain. The goal of environmental justice is to ensure that all people have the right to safe, secure and sustainable livelihoods free of toxic pollution, and a voice in the decision-making that affects them. An example of an environmental justice issue faced in this border region is the maquiladora program, designed to bring jobs and prosperity to northern Mexico cities while at the same time providing cheap labor for foreign-owned manufacturers. Although the program has produced jobs, the work typically involves low wages, few benefits, little job security, and high exposure to toxics. Nor is heavy exposure to toxics limited to workers. The maquiladoras produce large quantities of hazardous waste, little of which finds its way back to the country of origin for proper disposal. The symposium will present several case studies in the border region that illustrate the environmental problems facing disadvantaged communities, and cultural and community factors important in taking action to remediate environmental problems. One case study will cover the cleanup of the abandoned Tijuana battery recycling plant/lead smelter known as Metales y Derivados, representing a binational environmental and public health victory. Shut down by the Mexican government in 1994 for repeated violations of environmental law, Metales y Derivados continued to pollute nearby communities. Another presentation focuses on the environmental issues faced by tribal populations in the California/Baja California area, specifically, cultural and environmental issues surrounding access to clean drinking water. The next presentation will outline air quality problems in the agricultural Mexicali area, and discuss binational solutions. Following the presentations, the panel and audience will discuss environmental justice in the border region: priority areas, barriers faced when addressing these problems, policy changes that would enhance environmental justice, and culturally appropriate, community-based solutions.

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.