San Juan Opico, site of our February medical mission this year, has been in the news this week for environmental and human catastrophes. I had learned before our mission that because of lead contamination to the environment, the Ministry of Health shut down the Record Battery Company in 2007. Just this past week, the Ministry of the Environment announced an environmental emergency in a radius of 1,500 meters from the former plant. Mobile water tanks have been installed for clean water in the area; corn and beans in the area have been tested, and show high levels of lead; wells and some houses have been closed. In one sad case, the foundation of a house, now closed, had been filled with soil carried from the factory.
What's not clear from the reports I've read is why it took three years to declare this environmental disaster, or what has happened to the people living in the area in the meantime. It's all too likely that they've been drinking the water, eating the corn, walking over the contaminated fields.
Another completely unrelated tragedy hit the Opico community this week, when three students - two girls and a boy - were killed when a tree fell on the schoolbus they were riding in. The other 13 students, the teacher and the driver were all wounded. A natural disaster from the unending rains of this long, wet rainy season. The natural disaster - but ultimately caused, perhaps, by the human contributions to climate change - and the unnatural disaster of lead contamination caused by negligence and greed. In both cases, the innocent suffer.
I wonder if any of those three students were among our patients in February's clinics. I wonder if any of the ill children our pediatricians saw were suffering the effects of lead poisoning.