Hundreds of Cancer Deaths Due to Ecological Devastation
Amazon Defense Coalition
1 December 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Quito, Ecuador - An increase in Chevron's potential environmental liability in Ecuador's Amazon to $27 billion is "reasonable" given new scientific data about groundwater contamination and hundreds of additional cancer deaths due to oil contamination, according to a team of scientists who have reviewed the latest report by the court-appointed expert.
"The $27 billion number is reasonable when one considers the extent of the damage caused by Chevron and the decades that the soil and water relied upon by tens of thousands of people have been exposed to hydrocarbons," said Douglas Beltman, a scientist at Stratus Consulting who, along with a team of scientists, reviewed the expert's report on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Stratus Consulting has prepared damages assessments for several large clean-up sites in the U.S. under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice and various state agencies. Beltman said the Ecuador damages figure is lower than estimates for large environmental clean-ups in the U.S., such as the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington State.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Hanford site - which is one third the size of the affected area in Ecuador -- will cost $53 billion to $63 billion to remediate, or more than twice the amount of the damages figure in the Ecuador disaster, which is considered by some to be the worst oil-related contamination in history.
Beltman and Dr. Ann Maest, also a scientist at Stratus, said any clean-up funds in Ecuador will have to be used to remediate soils, rivers, streams, and groundwater over a 1,700 square mile area that contains the survivors of five indigenous groups and tens of thousands of farmers who live off the natural ecosystem.
"If this were the U.S., the area would be considered unfit for human habitation and would be fenced off until it could be remediated," said Maest. "Any clean-up of such a large area with ecosystem damage will be a huge endeavor that will take years."
The new number, submitted by the expert last week to an Ecuadorian trial court in the final phase of a class action lawsuit against Chevron, is an increase from the $16.3 billion damages figure submitted in a 4,000-page report to the same court last April. It is based on new information provided by the parties to remediate what some scientists consider to be one of the worst ecological disasters on the planet.
The expert found that the contamination in Ecuador was largely the product of sub-standard practices used by Texaco from 1964 to 1990, when the company dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste over an area of rainforest roughly the size of Rhode Island. Chevron now owns Texaco and will bear any liability in the case, which is being tried in Ecuador at Chevron's request.
The independent expert report was prepared by Richard Cabrera, an Ecuadorian environmental scientist appointed by the court as a Special Master who has worked mostly for oil companies in preparing environmental damage assessments. He was assisted by a team of 14 scientific and technical experts who reviewed a wide body of data submitted over five years of the trial, including more than 54,000 chemical sampling results from 94 of Chevron's former production sites encompassing each of the six oil fields in the region used by Texaco.
Cabrera, who was paid by the court for his work, had been paid by Chevron for his work as an independent expert in an earlier phase of the case. At the time, the oil giant never objected to his qualifications.
In reviewing the trial evidence - the vast majority of it provided by Chevron -- Cabrera found that 100% of Chevron's former sites are extensively contaminated with cancer-causing toxins and that an earlier clean-up Texaco claimed it had completed was ineffective. (Two Chevron lawyers and seven former Ecuadorian government officials were indicted recently in Ecuador on fraud charges relating to that earlier remediation, which took place in the late 1990s.)
The additional $11 billion in damages found by Cabrera includes:
- Compensation for excess cancer deaths from exposure to oil contamination is now $9.527 billion due to updated demographic and health data that takes into account population increases. Cabrera estimated 1,401 excess cancer deaths due to the contamination caused by Texaco. The monetary estimate is based a value of $6.8 million for each lost life, which tracks the method used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Roughly $3.2 billion to clean groundwater. In his first report, Cabrera had excluded this category despite evidence that the groundwater is contaminated. Groundwater is a source of drinking water and is considered a primary source of exposure to toxins.
- Roughly $1 billion for clean-up of contaminated soils in and around the 916 waste pits abandoned by Texaco. In his previous report, Cabrera had used a soil clean-up standard far more lax than is typically used in the U.S. The additional funds are to remediate the soils to the stricter standard.
A final decision on Chevron's liability and damages will be made by the trial judge, who is expected to rule sometime in 2009. However, courts in Ecuador generally give wide deference to reports prepared by independent experts.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs blasted Chevron for putting out false information about the latest findings, and rejected allegations the plaintiffs improperly influenced the report.
"Not accustomed to being held accountable for its flagrant disregard for the environment, Chevron is now attacking the very court that it once praised as fair to avoid trial in the United States," said Julio Prieto, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
"Chevron's attacks on the Cabrera report have no basis in science and show a profound disrespect for the rule of law," added Prieto. "There is no joy in having the extent of this terrible human tragedy confirmed yet again by outside experts."