Jeans blues in Mexico

A place once famous for pure water faces textile-industry pollution.

Jeans factory in Mexico

The factories are an important part of
the Mexican economy

The Mexican government is keen to attract investors from abroad and promote itself as business-friendly.

But Franc Contreras, reporting for Al Jazeera from Mexico, found that many local people feel the authorities are not doing enough to protect them and the environment from the side-effects of industrial activities.

Tehuacan in Mexico was once famous for the quality of its water, but now it is an important centre for the production of fashionable jeans.

The quality of its water has been almost forgotten.

Local activists say that some of the factories release contaminated water – filled with blue dyes and chemicals used to bleach the cloth – into the natural environment.

Martin Barrios, an environmental activist, told Al Jazeera that the water has “got this unnatural blue colour, which comes from the chemicals and dyes the factory uses for washing the blue jeans”.

“The water comes out of this blue jean washing factory on the outskirts of Tehuacan,” he said.


In video

Watch Franc Contreras’s report on Mexico’s poisoned rivers 

“Unfortunately, this company does not treat the water.”

Locals say the untreated waste water flows from the factories into this river and mixes with raw sewage from a nearby housing development.

The water, which produces an unpleasant smell, then flows to nearby vegetable fields and has endangered the crops grown by local farmers.

Mariano Barragan, a subsistence farmer who used to irrigates his crops with the contaminated water, told Al Jazeera: “We tried to grow some vegetables. But local health officials stopped us, saying it was a health risk. So we stopped planting.

“The contaminated water kills many of our plants and harms the soil.”

He told Al Jazeera: “We are barely making a living because the dirty water is harming our crops. We don’t know where we are going to get the money to eat and survive.”

Health risks

Barragan and other local citizens, all concerned about the health risks of the water, have demanded that the government and the jeans companies take action to clean up the polluted water.

The contaminated water flows onto
nearby vegetable fields

But the factories, which produce some of the most famous brands of blue jeans, have been resistant.

The Navarra Group, one of the biggest companies in the region and which exports its blue jeans around the world, says that it is not responsible for the water contamination.

Juan Carlos Lopez, environmental manager for The Navarra Group, said their factory had an “expensive water-treatment plant”.

“It allows us to monitor and analyse the quality of the residual water we discharge into this river,” he said.

“I can assure you that we comply with international environmental norms.”

The factories are an important part of the Mexican economy. Bordering the US, the world’s biggest economy, Mexico has a large workforce and is keen to attract investment from abroad.

Water treatment promised

The city government officials say they are making plans to construct a water-treatment plant.

Jose Rafael Limon, a spokesman for the  municipal government, said: “We want to eliminate the contaminated water and make sure it does not get into our rivers and fields. It’s a big investment. Our administration is leading the way. And we are making it a priority.”


Barragan and others have called
for the government to clean up the pollution

Limon told Al Jazeera plans for the plant were “under way”.

But for the citizens of Tehuacan, those promises are nothing new. Six years have gone by since the local government first made plans to build the water treatment plant.

It was supposed to be constructed on the outskirts of Tehuacan, but six years later the field designated for the plant remains empty.

Barragan told Al Jazeera while the plant had been promised by a number of administrations, “later they explain there’s not enough money to pay for the project”.

“A couple of administrations have come and gone,” he said. “They say the same things.”

Those who work the land say that Mexico’s politicians are more concerned about safeguarding the interests of business than protecting the area’s water resources and land.

Source: Al Jazeera