Polluted frontier

Published: Tuesday 15 July 1997

INSTEAD of lowering environmental degradation along the 3,218-km Mexico-us border, the North American Free Trade Agreement has only worsened the problem. The Mexican region has become an ideal location for polluting us companies because of weak enforcement of environment4l laws.

The town of Matamoros on the Mexican side of the border has turned into a dumping ground for pollutants by fertiliser, pesticide and furniture companies. Some of these tax-exempt companies were sued in 1992 for causing air pollution, by a group of families in Brownsville - located in Texas across the border - whose children were still-born with deformed skulls and no brains. The families were compensated by the companies in an out-of-court settlement last year.

Ever since the Mexican currency, peso, was devalued in 1994, manufacturing wages declined to a tenth of those in the us, thus spurring us companies to relocate their assembly operations. Matamoros has only three government health and safety inspectors who carry out air quality and industrial effluents tests only once a year.

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