U.S. Water News Online
SAN CARLOS, Ecuador -- A judge and lawyers watched as
experts dug holes and took ground and water samples in this Amazon
jungle hamlet, where residents contend 30 people have died of cancer
from toxic waste left behind and never adequately cleaned up by the
former Texaco Corp.
The inspection by Judge German Yanez is the latest chapter in the
ongoing oil-contamination lawsuit, brought by 88 people representing
30,000 poor jungle settlers and Amazon Indians, opened in Ecuador in
October 2003 after a decade of wending through U.S. courts.
About 50 of San Carlos' 300 residents gathered around the visitors
as eight scientists, some paid by the plaintiffs, some by the defense
and some by the court, dug deep holes and took samples to determine
the possible presence of crude oil residue and heavy metals.
The residents of the settlement, 124 miles east of the capital,
Quito, carried photos and a list of 30 people they said have died in
the last eight years from uterine, stomach and lung cancer.
"They say there is no crime, that we aren't drinking water with
crude in it," Monica Torres said of the lawyers from Chevron Corp.,
which merged with Texaco in 2001. "I believe they don't take
seriously what we are suffering through."
The plaintiffs claim $6 billion (euro5 billion) in damages to
their jungle homeland. The case is the first time that a
multinational oil company has been subjected to Ecuadorean
jurisdiction for allegedly damaging the environment in this small
Andean nation, which depends on oil for its development.
The plaintiffs allege that Texaco chose to cut costs between 1972
and 1990 by dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oily wastewater brought
up by drilling into more than 600 open pits and streams in the Amazon
Chevron has denied the allegations, saying Texaco followed
Ecuadorean environmental laws and spent $40 million (euro33.5
million) under a clean-up agreement it made with the Ecuadorean
government in 1995. The government certified the clean-up three years
A system of holding pits was turned over to state-run
Petroecuador, which the plaintiff's lawyers say continued to
contaminate the land.
Alejandro Ponce, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said the company
was responsible for irreparable damage to the environment and
He said the clean-up agreement with Ecuador only relieved Chevron
of liability if there was no contamination left, "but today it is
being demonstrated that contamination does exist."
But Rodrigo Perez, Chevron's spokesman in Ecuador, said there was
no proof to back up that claim.
"Scientifically, it has never been proven that oil exploitation,
the oil, produces cancer," he said. "Why don't they sue
Petroecuador?" he added. "Because they said to the gringos they were
going to take their money ... this trial is about money."
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