More than 1,400 Cancer Deaths Reported By Experts
Amazon Defense Coalition
30 April 2009 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
Washington, D.C. (April 30, 2009) – Chevron is responsible for creating a "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions" in Ecuador’s rainforest where more than 1,400 people reportedly have died of cancer and indigenous groups are struggling to survive the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste, a representative of the local communities testified this week before the U.S. Congress.
"The environmental degradation of this area, done intentionally by Texaco [now Chevron] to lower production costs, has today produced a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions," testified Steven Donziger, a lawyer for the affected Amazonian communities, before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, named after the former representative from California and Holocaust survivor.
Donziger charged that Texaco used a variety of sub-standard practices that decimated six indigenous groups and caused more than 1,400 deaths from cancer. A court-appointed expert in a 15-year civil trial in Ecuador recently estimated that damages to Chevron could be as high as $27 billion – an amount that would wipe out more than a year of profits for the oil giant.
"The human rights of these vulnerable peoples have been violated by intentionally reckless operational practices used to extract oil," added Donziger. "It is important that the Congress and the American people know about this crisis and its connection to our country."
The number of cancer deaths comes from a court report prepared by 15 technical experts and is based on survey information and demographic data. Local residents believe the number is conservative because most people in the isolated region die without receiving medical care, and therefore are never included in the nation’s cancer database or associated mortality reports.
A decision in the case, where Chevron has told U.S. government officials that it expects a "significant adverse" judgment, is expected later this year. The damages stem from Texaco’s role from 1964 to 1990 as the sole operator of oil concession in a large swath of the Amazon river basin in Ecuador.
Donziger, who has been working on the case for more than 15 years, described Chevron’s operation in Ecuador as an environmental "pump and dump" operation.
"Texaco pumped the oil of the ground, separated the crude and sold it on the commercial market, and then dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon," said Donziger. "In this area of Ecuador the water, soil, and air on which thousands of people depend for almost every aspect of their daily sustenance is for the most part poisoned."
The lawsuit charges that Texaco systematically discharged billions of gallons of "formation water" into the rainforest and abandoned more than 900 toxic waste pits gouged out of the jungle, which are still leaking toxins into soils and groundwater on which the local population relies for drinking water.
Formation water is a mixture of harmful hydrocarbons that includes the carcinogen benzene and is highly saline. In the U.S. and most other countries, "formation waters" almost always are re-injected into deep wells to avoid contamination of fresh water.
Donziger also charged that there were three additional rights violations of the Amazonian communities in Ecuador:
- The Ecuadorian leaders of the lawsuit have been victimized by deaths threats, robberies, and in one case, an attempted assault.
- The legal rights of the victims have been undermined by Chevron’s "abuse of the judicial process" used to obstruct and delay the trial, making it impossible to resolve the claims in an expeditious manner.
- Chevron practices "environmental racism" in Ecuador in that it contaminated the environment in the ancestral lands of indigenous groups while at the same time adhering to safe operating practices in the U.S.
Donziger pointed out that 100% of the 94 former Texaco sites inspected during the trial have high levels of soil contamination.
"In our opinion, the evidence points overwhelming to Chevron’s culpability," he added. "The only issue is whether Chevron’s legal maneuvers and violations of fundamental human rights will continue to delay the end of the trial."