Maria Garofalo has cancer, which she says
 is because of the pollution
Ecuador's natural resources are central to the country's economy, with oil accounting for 40 per cent of export earnings.

But oil revenues, which make up a third of the government's budget, come at a cost to the  environment and, activists say, at a cost to the health of Ecuadoreans living in the affected areas.

Maria Garofalo, a mother of six, has lived next door to a pumping station for 20 years. She has ovarian cancer and says her illness is a result of the fumes and waste she has been exposed to in that time.

"All the smoke from those burners comes in the house. When it rains the roof turns black, the same colour as the water in the tank. That’s what’s affecting my health," she said.

Garofalo lives in San Carlos, a small town in Ecuador's Amazon basin where the oil industry has operated since the 1960s.

The town also has the highest incidence of cancer in the country, while among children there are high rates of skin disease, throat pains and diarrhoea.

Contamination

A lawsuit, filed in 1993 and representing 30,000 local people, alleges that Texaco, the US oil company which is today part of Chevron, is responsible for the contamination of more than 25,000  square kilometres of Ecuadorean rainforest.

The lawsuit also alleges that more than six-and-a-half-billion cubic metres of gas were pumped into the air.

Rosa Moreno, a nurse working in the only clinic in San Carlos, is convinced that the high incidence of cancer is caused by residues in the water. She also blames the oil company.

"When they [Texaco] left I can tell you there were bags of salts and chemicals dumped everywhere," she said.

According to the lawsuit, more than 34 billion gallons of toxic residues connected to the oil extraction process were dumped in the rainforest.

ChevronToxico

A lawsuit alleges that more than 6.5bn cubic
metres of gas were pumped into the air
Texaco built and operated oil exploration and production facilities in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992.

According to ChevronToxico, a campaign that aims to hold ChevronTexaco accountable for the contamination of the Ecuadorean Amazon, when Texaco stopped its operations it left "a region three times the size of Manhattan polluted with more than 600 open toxic waste pits".

Waste from the pits is said to pollute rivers and streams and contaminate water supplies.

The populations of many Ecuadorean towns such as San Carlos are thought to suffer severe health problems as a result.

But Texaco says the claims are not based on fact and it does not recognise a connection between the high incidence of cancer and its activities around San Carlos.

Ricardo Reis Vega, Chevron's defence lawyer, said: "The experts nominated by the court didn't see any significant risk to the health of humans."

When asked by Al Jazeera why, in that case, so many were dying, he said: "That is an issue that has to be studied.

"The thing we don't agree and we are going to fight this is because we don't think this is the truth - that we are the cause of all evil."

Studies have indicated that any clean-up operation could cost over $6bn, and take between 10 and 15 years.

Source: Al Jazeera