Mexico City- Worldwide Problem of Fertilizing with Raw Sewage Endangers Health of Farmers

Black Water Sewage Enriches Crops Near Mexico City

By Janet Jarman

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MEXICO CITY– For centuries Mexico City has struggled with the problem of disposing of the sewage that accumulates each day in a chaotic, growing city.

Historically, the solution has been to dump what is known as “Aguas Negras” or “Black Waters” in rural areas outside the city – now one of the largest in the world with nearly 20 million people.  The result has been a flow of rich, but noxious and powerfully smelly goop that produces beautiful food crops, but is harmful to both farmers and customers and to those living near the canals and farms.

Government officials recognize a substantial health hazard. But until recently the government had done little more than try to restrict the crops grown in the sewage to those they thought would be least harmful to consumers.

Now the government says that in early 2010 it plans to start building what may be the largest sewage treatment plant in Latin America. The government hopes to have it finished in two years.

People in the farmlands of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City, where much of the Aguas Negras goes, live with the foul sewage and know what it does to them personally. Diarrhea is one result. Another is intestinal worms. Sometimes, the people say, they feel short of breath. Some people get rashes. Some people say they have no symptoms. Cholera attracted attention 10 years or so ago.  But there has been none of that lately.

No systematic studies have been done on the harm to people who unwittingly buy the produce grown with Aguas Negras. The government says farmers can grow corn, alfalfa and a few other crops. They are officially forbidden to grow lettuce, cabbage, beets and carrots. But these are the most profitable crops and officials say that at least some farmers are ignoring the ban and taking possibly tainted crops to market.

Cleaner water would be a boon to farmers and customers. Providing it would be the right thing to do for the government. But many farmers are not sure they want it. They worry that their fields will be less productive and that their earnings will diminish. #

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