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AMA Urges Action on Severe Pollution Along U.S.-Mexican Border

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pollution is so severe and infectious disease so rampant along the U.S.-Mexico border that a binational commission must be created to solve the problems, an American Medical Assn. report said Tuesday.

“Current solutions are inadequate, fragmentary and not coordinated by the two nations,” said the report, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. The full AMA approved a committee recommendation to create such a commission last summer, but the report was not published until Tuesday.

Conditions are so squalid, the AMA said, that they seriously affect health and economics on both sides of the border. Specifically:

About 12 million gallons of raw sewage flow daily into the Tijuana River before it empties into the Pacific Ocean off San Diego County. Another 20 million and 22 million gallons, respectively, are dumped into the New River at Mexicali and the Rio Grande in Texas.

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The fecal count at some points in the Rio Grande is a dangerous 22,000 bacteria per milliliter.

Hepatitis is especially high among people who live along the border. About 35% of children under 8 in San Elizario, Tex., near El Paso, have had hepatitis A, and 85% to 90% of residents contract it by 35.

Rabies is a constant threat on both sides of the border. The report notes that in Laredo, Tex., across the border from the Mexican town of Nuevo Laredo, stray dogs bite more than 500 people a year.

The report acknowledges that there have been some efforts in recent years to solve the problems.

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In October, President Bush and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari reached a historic agreement to build a sewage plant in the United States to treat up to 25 million gallons of Tijuana waste daily.

The plant would end pollution of the Tijuana River, which enters the Pacific north of the border and has contaminated beaches there for years. A 2 1/2-mile section of beach just north of the border has been closed for more than six years.

A written agreement between the two nations to begin construction could be completed as early as next week, said Bob Ybarra, spokesman in El Paso for the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The commission, set up in 1889, is responsible for boundary and water issues between the two countries, while air pollution solutions are the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mexican Secretariat of Urban Development and Ecology.

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The EPA’s efforts--which the AMA notes are coordinated by people who live in Mexico City and Washington, not along the border--and the water commission’s work are not enough, said William C. Scott, chairman of the AMA’s Council on Scientific Affairs.

“Neither one has very effectively attacked the problems of the severe environmental deterioration that’s happening along the border,” Scott said. “The water commission does the water stuff and the EPA does the air stuff, and neither one of them pay attention to a lot of problems that fall in between.”

Although the AMA said the idea of a binational environmental health commission has been endorsed by health officials, cities and public health associations along the border, the Bush Administration says such a commission is unnecessary.


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