The name of the community is El Sitio del Niño, "the Place of the Child," but a better name might be "the Place of the Poisoned Child." Sitio del Niño is the location of the Record Battery factory, a place where used lead acid batteries are recycled to recover the lead inside them. Repeated tests and reports in recent years have shown that the lead does not stay inside the factory -- it is found in the air, soil and water around the factory, and most tragically, in the bloodstreams of the children of the surrounding area.
El Faro captured the frustrated anguish of a mother recounting her family's story to yet another reporter:
I ask myself: And for what? What reason do I have to tell the same thing yet another time. It makes me tired to tell that my children, when they go out picking cherries on their bicycles, always return with dead birds. I am tired of telling that my children have it in their blood.... that my daughter will have repercussions on her ability to have children. And for what? I ask myself. If all this is already known throughout all the country and outside the country. Telemundo has been here and it has been in the news in the United States. We've made denunciations with the prosecutor. And what have the authorities done? Are they going to close the factory? Are they going to help us? And for what do I want to tell all this to you yet again if I have already told it many times and nothing has ever happened?One group who heard the stories from Sitio was the US Center for Disease Control. The CDC assisted El Salvador's government with lead monitoring in late 2005. But in April 2007, a La Prensa feature story described how little was being done to guard against the risk of lead that the CDC had found from the Record Battery factory:
[The CDC] found the presence of the metal in the houses of the region and left in 2005 a series of recommendations to reduce the levels of contamination. During the two years which followed, however, the actions executed [by Record] went more towards hiding the damage than correcting it. The Salvadoran government has done very little to keep watch on the emissions of lead and much less to to guarantee the health of the inhabitants.Since then, the office of El Salvador's Human Rights Advocate ("PDDH" for its Spanish initials) has gotten involved. In a report issued June 7, 2007 , the PDDH recounted a long history of bureaucratic failure to act. The environment ministry was cited as being "negligent and potentially complicit" with the business interests. The PDDH sharply criticized the negligence of the Minister of Public Health in failing to address the situation and acting to hide information from people living around the factory and the factory employees. The PDDH urged the Salvadoran government actors to recognize the urgent need to prevent the source of the contamination including closing the factory.
Three months later, little has changed. The PDDH issued another report, dated August 30, 2007 which emphasized a laundry list of illnesses and symptoms found in the inhabitants of Sitio del Nino, and harshly critiqued the government's inaction as a violation of fundamental human rights of the persons living in the shadow of the factory. Now the PDDH plans to take the case to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations reports Diario Colatino.
This summer, 88 children were tested, the health ministry claims there were 55 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood, Record, however, claims the number is only 15 after it sent the samples outside of El Salvador for testing. Record asserts that any lead contamination in the area comes from sources other than the operations of its factory.
The government has still taken no action. La Prensa reported that the government lacks rules with teeth because there had been a failure to issue limits for stationary source air pollution involving permitted levels of lead which could have been applied to the Record facility. The Minister of Health stated that Record has been allowed to operate without a permit since 2004. The El Salvador Attorney General's office said on September 17 that it lacked sufficient proof of lead pollution to take action against the factory.
Record Battery is owned by the prominent Lacayo family. Miguel Lacayo, was the Salvadoran Minister of the Economy under President Francisco Flores. Lacayo was criticized in 2001 for advocating a change in customs duties which would lower tariffs on the battery materials shipped by his company. Record Battery received financing for expansion in the late 1990's from the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank.
A description of the processes employed in the Record factory is contained in this trip report from the International Lead Management Center, a lead industry funded organization.
Record portrays itself as a "green" company as this presentation from 2005 shows. Record is also part of something called the Green Lead Initiative, a lead industry initiative to promote environmentally safe use and processing of lead. (It is worth acknowledging that the handling and disposal of old lead batteries is a significant environmental issue which is a challenge for developing countries as described in this presentation on recycling used lead acid batteries in Latin America and Caribbean ).
The Salvadoran press has been covering this story extensively, although there is little in the English language press outside of the country. Two major stories appeared in La Prensa in April and El Faro this week.
As blogger Ixquic states, it is children who ought to be "hard to kill."