agriculture, Environment, Uncategorized

Molasses Spill Contaminates Magdalena River in Chalchalupa

Several aspects of El Salvador’s sugarcane industry are detrimental to the environment – deep plowing, heavy application of toxic agrochemicals, burning fields, and excessive use of groundwater to name a few. (Voices will be publishing a report on the impacts of sugarcane in the coming weeks).

Last week, however, the Magdalena Sugar Mill in Chalchuapa, Santa Ana added industrial spills to the list of environmental harms. On Thursday the Salvadoran Civil Protection Services warned that the mill spilled 900,000 gallons of molasses into the nearby Magdalena River, which feeds into the Paz River.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, on Thursday Mill workers realized that molasses from freshly processed cane was unusually hot, almost 400° F (200° C), so they mixed in water and chemicals to cool it off. That led to a chemical reaction that caused the molasses to spill out of the collection area and into the Magdalena River.

Molasses is the thick, black syrup left over when mills (there are 6 operating in El Salvador) boil cane juice and extract sugar. The mills sell molasses on the international market where it is further processed into biofuel, alcohol, animal feed, and other products.

Following the spill, Civil Protection evacuated two homes. One man was burned when he tried to rescue his dog, who was stuck in the hot molasses (sadly, the dog did not make it out). The spill affects at least 454 families in eight communities around Chalchuapa. A quarter of those families depend on the river to satisfy their domestic and agricultural water needs.

Lina Pohl, the Minister of the Environment said in an interview that the spill has killed fish as far as 5 km down river, and maybe further. She added that the chemicals added to the molasses to cool it down can also kill people if ingested. The seriousness of the spill forced the Ministry of the Environment to declare an environmental emergency, warning locals to stay away from the river and not to drink or use the water. An Environmental Court has opened a case against the Magdalena Sugarcane Mill, which may result in a fine.

Here is an update from the Minister of the Environment:

The spill and contamination of the Magdalena River reinforces the need to protect El Salvador’s water supplies. This is especially true considering the recent announcement that parts of El Salvador are experiencing water crisis. Over 90% of the country’s surface waters are contaminated with agricultural runoff and sewage, as well as untreated industrial waste.

The Ministry of the Environment, Civil Protection, and other agencies seem to be responding to this disaster appropriately and clean up is underway. But Government agencies have to do more to prevent such disasters. The Ministry is pretty good about identifying issues and writing reports, but very weak on regulation and enforcement. Government agencies have to work closely with private interests, communities, and civil society organizations to prevent disasters, and clean up the 90% of surface waters that are too contaminated to use.

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Climate Change, Disasters

Earthquake Update: The waves in Isla de Mendez

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Map of the area hit on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula, about 5 miles from Octavio Ortiz

Last night two people were injured in the Lower Lempa of Usulután and are currently in the hospital.  The injuries were caused by very high waves that struck them as they were guarding the sea turtle egg hatchery on the beach of Isla de Mendez.  Two other people were also swept away by the waves, but were able to swim back to safety.

Community members reported that waves reached heights of 8 meters (26 feet) and that the water came inland about 350 meters (383 yards) which crossed the barrier peninsula and reached fresh water land.

Other nearby communities were on alert until 1:00 in the morning.  Communities such as Octavio Ortiz and Amando López were kept on full alert by the emergency speaker that blared warnings throughout the night.

Advocacy, Disasters

Crisis in El Salvador! Please Help Now

The situation here in El Salvador has become truly critical in the past 24 hours.  The number of evacuated persons has risen to at least 13,878 and Civil Protection continues to call for more.  In the past 12 hours over 200 ml (approximately 8 inches) of rain fell nation wide, and the death toll has risen to at least 27 people.  Many roads are now impassable due to flooded rivers and creeks, as well as land slides.  Civil Protection has registered 590 land slides, 472 damaged or destroyed homes, and 998 homes in grave risk.

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We cannot stress enough the devastation that has occurred over the past 72 hours.  The entire country is on red alert, frantically trying to get basic necessities to shelters and communities around the country.

In the Lower Lempa the CEL is currently releasing 8000 cubic meters of water per second, levels not seen since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.  The levees are already seriously compromised and the Mayor  of Jiquilisco is calling for a complete evacuation of the Lower Lempa, as ordered by Civil Protection.  The Salvadoran Navy and Armed Forces has dispached boats and vehicles to help facilitate evacuations.

We at Voices are working with the Civil Protection Central Command out of Ciudad Romero. They have asked us, for right now, to provide support to the shelters in Amando Lopez and Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, which we are doing. This afternoon, Civil Protection is evacuating the Amando Lopez Shelter, which is at capacity. As the Rio Lempa continues to rise through the afternoon and into the evening, we expect that the numerous families that have so far not evacuated to make their way to the Amando Lopez shelter, and they will need our support. We will also continue assisting the evacuees as they move to the shelter in San Marcos. Right now we are focused on the basics: food, clothing, and shelter.

Again, if you have not donated for this emergency, we urge you to do so.  This weather is projected to last into the coming week, and any and all aid is urgent and necessary.  Also we have noticed that there is a lack of coverage in the international press – please help spread the word!

We are making a wire transfer to the communities tomorrow morning, so please help tonight by clicking on the Donate Now button to the right of this page. No amount is too small or big.

And please share this bolg post with your friends and Family on Facebook

Disasters, Hydro Electric Dams, News Highlights

Flood Alert in El Salvador!

This week El Salvador has been feeling the growing effects of two low-pressure systems.  By this afternoon Tropical Depression 12 E, which sits off the coast of Guatemala on the Pacific Ocean, is expected to be upgraded to a Tropical Storm.  So far, the heaviest rainfall has been registered in the Western provinces of the country, as well as the coastal region.

Dr. Jeff Masters, from Weather Underground, describes further possibilities for tropical depressions next week.  In his blog he says:

“Many of the computer models continue to predict that a strong tropical disturbance capable of becoming a tropical depression could form in the Western Caribbean or extreme southern Gulf of Mexico early next week. Some of the spin and moisture for this storm could potentially come from Tropical Depression 12-E, which formed in the Eastern Pacific this morning, just offshore of the Mexico/Guatemala border. TD 12-E is expected to move inland over Southeast Mexico and Guatemala over the next few days, bringing very heavy rains of 5 – 10 inches capable of causing life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides.”

Civil Protection in El Salvador has declared the Orange level alert for the coast and volcanic corridor.  There have been reported mudslides and flashfloods as well, with one reported death in a mudslide in Ayutuxtepeque, near Mejícanos.  A Mayor of one of the most affected municipalities in Ahuachpan was rescued after being swept away in his pick up truck while trying to alert locals of evacuation efforts.  About 240 people are in shelters in La Paz, and another 24 families in San Vicente.

In the Lower Lempa, Jiquilisco many communities are experiencing minor flooding due to the accumulated rainfall.  These include Amando López, El Marillo I and II, Monte Mar, Octavio Ortiz, Los Lotes, Babylonia, Nueva Esperanza, Ciudad Romero, among others.  Currently, the CEL reports discharges of 1,200 cubic meters per second, and according the Community Association ACUDESBAL, the Lempa river basin can absorb up to 2,500 cubic meters per second.  This is less than prior years due to the deterioration of the already patchy levee and drainage systems.  No one has evacuated yet, but the Early Warning System is fully activated.

Follow developments on our FaceBook page or on Twitter @VoicesElSal

 

 

Vocies on the Border is a non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting just and sustainable development in El Salvador. Please support our work today by clicking on the Donate Now button!