Mexico's Cytrar Hazardous Waste Dump Focus of Probe

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, August 9, 2001 (ENS) - The environmental agency that operates as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is seeking more information about the establishment and operation of the Cytrar hazardous waste landfill near the city of Hermosillo, in the state of Sonora, Mexico.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has received a request from Mexico to terminate a citizen submission alleging Mexico's failure to enforce its environmental law in relation to the Cytrar landfill. But the agency says it does not have enough information to make a determination in the case and is asking citizens to come forward with more facts.

On June 4, Mexico provided an initial response to the submission filed by Domingo Gutiérrez Mendívil and the Sonoran Academy of Human Rights.

The submission asserts that the Cytrar hazardous waste landfill carried on activities in violation of multiple legal provisions. It alleges that the facility operated without an environmental impact authorization; it failed to comply with the applicable legal provisions concerning the design and construction of its facilities; and it deposited hazardous waste originating from the company Alco Pacifico, Inc. of the United States. The submitters allege that these violations concerning the disposal of hazardous wastes have caused damage to human health and to habitat.

Hermosillo

Landscape near Hermosillo with the tower of the city in the background. (Photos courtesy Virtual Hermosillo)
Mexico has informed the CEC Secretariat that arbitration proceedings are ongoing to resolve an international dispute related to the Cytrar hazardous waste landfill and requesting that the Secretariat proceed no further with the process for submission.

On June 13, the Secretariat determined that it was not provided enough information by Mexico to determine whether the matter raised in the Cytrar II submission and that subject to the international dispute resolution proceeding to which Mexico is party are the same.

Mexico had until July 31 to provide a response to the submission and/or additional information on the matter subject to the arbitration proceeding.

On July 30, Mexico did provide additional information concerning the matter subject to the arbitration proceeding. Mexico claimed that the matter at arbitration and the subject of submission are the same.

Mexico said that, "since the proceeding was officially instituted prior to the Cytrar II submission ... the United Mexican States consider that the submission should be totally and absolutely terminated."

But the CEC Secretariat says "Mexico did not respond to the allegations of the submission with this or its previous response."

Meanwhile, several waste management companies have filed cases against Mexico at the World Bank's Washington, DC based International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes over the Cytrar facility.

One, the Madrid based Técnicas Medioambientales S.A., is seeking an undetermined amount of compensation from the Mexican government for investment lost when its wholly owned Mexican subsidiary, Técnicas Medioambientales de México S.A. de C.V., was denied permission to operate the Cytrar hazardous waste dump.

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Navarrete Boulevard in Hermosillo
Mexico's National Ecology Institute denied a renewal of its annual permit to operate the Cytrar landfill in November 1997. The company proceeded to international arbitration to resolve its request to continue operating.

In January 1998 a citizens coalition blockaded the dump for 37 days until they were removed by police. They were protesting the site’s technical viability and lack of public participation in decisions regarding the hazardous waste facility. They objected that the dump is just seven kilometers (4.3 miles) from the city of Hermosillo, in violation of a Mexican regulation which requires a toxic waste dump to be at least 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from an urban area.

Now, tons of hazardous waste in temporary storage at Guadalcazar and Hermosillo are a health and environmental problem for which no one is taking responsibility, and other hazardous wastes are piling up around the country without remediation.

The Secretariat is reviewing Mexico's responses to determine whether it should proceed no further with the Cytrar II submission, or whether a factual record is warranted. A factual record can be developed on the vote of two of the three Parties to the NAFTA agreement and its environmental side agreement, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). Parties to the treaty are Mexico, the United States and Canada.

Under NAAEC rules, the Secretariat may consider a submission from any person or nongovernmental organization asserting that a Party to NAAEC is failing to effectively enforce its environmental law.

Based in Montreal, the CEC was established under NAAEC to address environmental issues in North America from a continental perspective, with a focus on those arising in the context of liberalized trade. The CEC Council, the organization's governing body, is composed of the environment ministers of Canada, Mexico and the United States.