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Environmental health addressed

April 10, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

MEXICALI — Baltazar Macias quickly explained why dozens of scholars, government officials and environmentalists from Mexico and the U.S. gathered here for a two-day forum on environmental health at the California-Baja California border.

"We want to know what's going on here, what's going in (binational waterways) and what's the sort of impact it has on the environment," he said Tuesday.

The forum is sponsored by the California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies of San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency, Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Instituto de Servicios de Salud del Estado de Baja California, California Department of Health Services, San Diego County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, American Lung Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the Environmental Health Coalition.

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For Macias, knowing what's going on environmentally at the border is critical since he works for a Tijuana-based non-profit group called Southwest Waterways. His group solicits grants to help clean waterways such as the Tijuana and New rivers.

His associate John Biehl of Riverside said he attended the forum because he wanted to see what sort of environmental consideration, or lack thereof, is being paid at the border.

In gathering information, the pair said they will be more successful in securing grants and, if they are successful doing that, health conditions along the border could improve. Already their organization has funded cleanup projects in Tijuana, they said.

To help them gather information about Mexicali, Biehl, Macias and a large group of other forum attendees piled into a UABC bus and toured the metropolis and its outskirts.

They saw the Cerro Prieto hot springs, the power plants under construction near Mount Signal, a mesquite cultivation project and the New River.

Biehl said he was specifically looking forward to seeing the mesquite project. He had been told that Mexican officials were getting good results at that particular soil remediation, or cleanup, project. The gist of the project: Mexican officials have planted mesquite trees in contaminated soil. The trees help clean the soil as they grow.

For others who signed up to take a bus ride around Mexicali, the trip was a chance to see areas of Mexico that they might have only heard about.

Andrew Salmon of California EPA's Oakland office said, "It's a big difference seeing it firsthand as opposed to just hearing about it."

He said he attended the forum to "see what it is that I don't know."

What he finds out he'll bring back to the Cal EPA's office.

Another attendee, Monica Appel of Mexicali, attended the forum and took the bus ride for more personal reasons. Asked why it was important for her to be at the forum, she said, "I'm a citizen."

Sounding a less altruistic note, she said it's also good for her business. Appel is a freelance consultant who advises companies on how to comply with environmental regulations.

"I tell them the studies that they have to do," she said.

Appel is the niece of Rudolfo Ruffo Appel, Mexican President Vicente Fox's border affairs cabinet minister.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez Gildardo of the Riverside County Office of Education said he attended the conference to get accurate information about the environmental problems affecting migrants.

"We have to know what's happening and I say ‘we' because I also live in Mexicali," he said.

This morning, during the second day of the forum, attendees attended workshops on air quality and respiratory illness, water quality, food safety, emergency response to hazardous materials, pesticides, lead poisoning and occupational health.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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