Paradise Remade: Dominican Republic Lead Polluter Goes Green

In Miami Herald reports that Haina, “Paradise Remade: Dominican Republic Lead Polluter Goes Green,” the a town once known for being one of the planet’s worst polluters, is now being held up as an example of what can happen when a neighborhood, environmentalists, a university, the business sector and government work together. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Just five years ago, this low-income industrial town just west of the capital was considered one of the “most polluted places in the world.” Poisoned by toxic levels of lead in their blood, kids erupted in seizures. Most of them sported blank stares, which conveyed that they never fully appreciated the neurological consequences of all those afternoons spent playing with unearthed remnants of a battery recycling plant.

[. . .] God’s Paradise, a collection of spontaneous settlements in a city called Haina, is unspoiled now. Children’s lead blood levels are at safe levels. And to the surprise of everyone involved, the company blamed for contaminating their bodies and land is now a leader in the green recycling movement. A place once known for being one of the planet’s most contaminated neighborhoods is now being held up as an example of what can happen when a neighborhood, environmentalists, the international community, academics, the business sector and government work together.

“I’m green now,” said Jose Antonio Rodriguez, president of Meteoro, the Dominican Republic’s largest battery recycler. “What are they going to say about me now?” They started saying bad things in the 1980s, when Rodriguez’s family operated a battery plant in the area — long before many of the illegal houses that eventually surrounded his smelter even existed. Like many of the back-alley battery plants that still exist in Santo Domingo, Metaloxa routinely bought used batteries, dumped the acid and sold the remains for profit. When activists visited in the early 1990s, they found a 30-foot high pile of batteries. Lead fumes wafted in the air. The levels of lead in the children’s blood were 30 times the accepted average; the soil, 1,000 times. “We struggled for 18 years,” said Sandra Castillo, the activist whose face is now on the mural. “I called and called and nobody listened.”

Eventually, the New York-based Friends of Lead Free Children and the environmental group Blacksmith Institute intervened. When Blacksmith placed Haina third on its 2006 list of the Top 10 most polluted places on the planet, the negative publicity got the Dominican government’s attention.

[. . .] In developing countries like the Dominican Republic, used batteries are busted open manually. Chronic poisoning accumulates in the bones and causes to fatigue, headache, aching bones and muscles, forgetfulness, loss of appetite and sleep. But the major damage is seen in children, who suffer irreversible neurological damage.

“People in the developing world were operating in a way that wasn’t to the best standards,” said Brian Wilson, program manager of the International Lead Management Center, an organization funded by the lead industry. “It’s easy to shut down the smelter and put people out of work. In this case, we worked with the company and the government.”

[. . .] Richard Fuller, president of the Blacksmith Institute, said all of the children in Haina now have safe — and continuously dropping — lead levels.

For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/17/2221443_p2/dominican-republic-lead-polluter.html

Photo from http://climateprediction.net/board/viewtopic.php?p=83909

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