U.S. Water News Online
JOYA DE LOS SACHAS, Ecuador -- An abandoned oily pit in
this remote Amazon jungle town became the backdrop for an open
courtroom, as an Ecuadorean judge began visiting 122 polluted sites
in a lawsuit involving California-based ChevronTexaco Corp.
"We have stomach pain, dizziness, skin rashes and we are
constantly sick," resident Elias Zurita said at a public hearing
presided by Judge Efrain Novillo. Zurita, 40, said he has lived 10
feet from a toxic pool since he was eight.
Although ChevronTexaco says the pool was sufficiently cleaned up,
Zurita said that drinking water in the region has been poisoned with
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, brought by 88 people representing
30,000 poor jungle settlers and Amazon Indians, say Texaco took
advantage of lax Ecuadorean environmental standards to cut costs in
the 1970s and 1980s.
The plaintiffs allege the company chose to dump 18.5 billion
gallons of oily wastewater brought up by drilling into more than 600
open pits, instead of re-injecting it back underground, a common
practice in the developed world.
They want ChevronTexaco to bankroll additional clean up and
provide medical care for people harmed by pollution. They estimate
the costs could exceed $1 billion. Ecuadorean law does not permit
cash awards for class action plaintiffs.
The oil company says it followed environmental regulations and
complied with a government cleanup plan, capping the oily pits.
ChevronTexaco also blames state-owned Petroecuador, its former
partner in the oil project, for most of the pollution.
"These inspections have no judicial value, whatsoever," oil
company lawyer Alfonso Callejas said, alleging that the plaintiffs
visited the sites ahead of the judge to influence the hearings.
The first day of the public hearing drew about 100 residents,
lawyers, journalists and activists, including celebrity Bianca
"This is a circus," ChevronTexaco spokesman Christopher Gides said
after spotting six technicians, sent by the plaintiffs, in white lab
suits, protective gloves, goggles, helmets and masks.
The lawsuit opened in October in the nearby jungle town of Lago
Agrio, 110 miles northeast of Quito, after spending a decade in U.S.
courts. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York sent the
case to Ecuador in 2002, ruling that it should be heard in the
country where the pollution occurred.
The site inspections are expected to last for several months.
Texaco merged with Chevron in 2001 to form ChevronTexaco, based in
San Ramon, Calif.
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