Chevron in Ecuador

The archive of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign website

Mother Who Testified About Toxic Pollution In Chevron Rainforest Trial Dies of Cancer

Family In San Carlos Has Suffered Multiple Deaths

Amazon Defense Coalition

Amazon Defense Coalition
15 November 2006 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109

San Carlos, Orellana - A woman with three teen-aged children from a community in the Amazon rainforest known as the "cancer zone" has died of the fatal disease just months after accusing Chevron in court testimony of having dumped tons of toxic waste near her small farm.

Maria del Carmen Villota Mainaguez, 42 (pictured), a resident of the town of San Carlos in Ecuador's Amazon region, died on Nov. 8 after battling uterine cancer for two years. Her father, Faustino Villota, also died of cancer four years ago in San Carlos after drinking tainted water for years near the family farm.

The class action civil lawsuit where Villota testified last March accuses the oil giant of having dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest and abandoned approximately 1,000 open-air waste pits filled with toxic sludge and oil waste. Texaco, which was bought by Chevron in 2001, built and operated 350 wells in the area from 1964 to 1992. Clean-up is estimated at $6 billion.

The lawsuit accuses Chevron of violating Ecuadorian and U.S. law by using sub-standard practices in Ecuador to save money. It is estimated Chevron made $30 billion in profit from its Ecuador operations, and saved an estimated $5 billion by failing to use technology then in use in the U.S. that re-injected the toxic waste into well cavities to avoid an environmental impact.

The area where Villota Mainaquez lived sits at the intersection of two of Chevron's large separation stations, Sacha Central and Sacha Sur. Both were used to separate the crude oil from the toxic "produced water" and in both places the waste was dumped into streams that served as the water supply for the town.

According to Rosa Moreno, a nurse in San Carlos, 27 town residents have died of cancer since Texaco began its operations in the area. The entire population of San Carlos is only 500 people, she said, prompting residents to call it the "cancer zone".

"Texaco's delaying tactics are all the more disgraceful when people like Maria Villota are dying," said Luis Yanza, Coordinator of the legal case for the affected communities.

San Carlos is famous because various health studies have demonstrated that the town has one of the highest rates of cancer in Ecuador, if not the highest. Five separate peer-reviewed academic studies have documented rates of cancer several times higher than those in other parts of the Amazon where Texaco did not operate.

One study found rates of childhood leukemia four times higher in San Carlos than other areas.

Villota and her husband moved to San Carlos in 1984 where they bought a plot of land to farm. As a cheap surfacing method, Texaco covered all the roads in the area at the time in crude oil, and Villota was daily forced to walk barefoot through the oil the distance from her home to the fields with her husband's lunch.

As with the other residents of San Carlos, drinking water obtained from wells and streams had to have a light slick of oil pushed to the side before being consumed. The people of the entire region have been bathing, cooking and washing in such water for decades, their children subjected to the toxins the water carries from the time of their birth.

On March 8 of this year, Villota testified at a court-ordered inspection of the Sacha Sur Oil Station in which the judge asked her where she then lived. She responded that she was now renting a place in La Joya de los Sachas having been forced to move from San Carlos after selling everything she had to pay for her treatment.

Villota explained to the judge that when she lived in San Carlos she collected water from a nearby stream that she knew to be contaminated, but had no choice but to use it.

Villota leaves three children aged 18, 14 and 12.

In the area of La Joya de los Sachas alone, where Villota spent the last few months of her life, Texaco was responsible for spills of over 20 million gallons of crude over the course of its 30 years of operation in the area.

The lawsuit claims the pollution has forced two indigenous tribes (the Cofán and Secoya) to the brink of extinction and led to the extinction of a third, the Tetete.