Border Patrol agents are facing headaches, rashes, infections, and breathing problems thanks to 143 million gallons of Mexican sewage spilling into the Tijuana River Valley that they patrol, reports MSN news.
An increasing number of agents at the Imperial Beach station near the Mexican – U.S. border are facing these symptoms thanks to the lack of proper sanitation systems in Mexico.
This has been one of the most recent risks to Border Patrol agents and one that isn’t seen very often, reports Christopher Harris, a union representative for National Border Patrol Council’s Local 1613:
“They’re willing to put up with the normal hazards of law enforcement,” Harris said. “We understand that’s part of our job. We get shot at. We accept all that. We do our best to mitigate it. We wear vests. We have trauma kits. But we can’t mitigate sewage and chemicals.”
Harris has been pressing administrators at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to take steps to protect his agents from the toxins that regularly pollute the valley.
In June, Harris documented more than 30 agents who had succumbed to the illness thanks to the sewage leak, and since then has nearly tripled to at least 83 agents.
The Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station has about 300 employees who patrol the border from the Pacific Ocean through the Tijuana River Valley. Some work on foot and others in ATVs or SUVs, also on horseback.
The sewage leak in February and subsequent leaks flowed into the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park, which covers 71.5 miles of dirt roads and paths.
According to MSN the muck that is created thanks to the sewage settling in the riverbanks, and overflows during rains and dries out in the hot weather, is impossible for the agents to avoid when on patrol.
Michael Scappechio, a spokesman with the U.S. Border Patrol, said the agency is aware of the agents’ health problems and is assessing the problem to develop short and long-term solutions:
“Common reported acute injuries have ranged from upper-respiratory ailments to burns on extremities,” he said. “Personnel have also reported damage to boots and gloves while performing their duties.”
According to Scappechio the problem with cross-border raw sewage is a complex and decades-old issue. To solve the issue that involves pinpointing the locations and sources of the spills which can be difficult.
“‘It is the intent on the part of CBP and USBP, that the collaborative effort amongst the stakeholders involved, will result in both a safer and healthier environment in the Tijuana River Valley shortly and for the long run.’ he said.”
Since the number of cases reached such a drastic level, Harris and Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection visited the station.
As a result of that visit, “my understanding is every week or every two weeks he gets an update on what they’re doing,” Harris said. “Now, understand their constraints. They’re not a scientific organization. They’re not an EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. They’re not a research organization. They’re doing the best they can to find money and try to mitigate.”
Harris said there was talk of building decontamination showers for the agents, but what is really needed is more reporting on spills and more testing of the sewage water. The task of testing that water is done by a small federal agency.
The International Boundary and Water Commission is in charge of documenting each spill. This tiny branch of the State Department with approximately 250 employees is in charge of tackling a problem that can literally reach everywhere within the U.S. in a short amount of time.
The plant can’t treat all the sewage flowing across the border. Tijuana’s population, which officially stands at 1.56 million, has outpaced the city’s ability to provide adequate and updated sewage infrastructure.
How much money and how many physical human lives will be spent in order to fix Mexico’s sewage problem? Too many for U.S. taxpayers is the answer.