Pollution in Lake Chapala is making local children sick

Children living beside Mexico’s Lake Chapala are getting sick. Residents have reported birth defects, kidney disease, and slow mental development. Locals and environmentalists blame it on the water. CGTN's Alasdair Baverstock reports.

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“When I was pregnant I drank water from the tap, and we didn’t know the water wasn’t good for drinking,” Lake Chapala resident Catalina Gonzalez said.

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Heavy metals and toxic substances from industries operating nearby have entered the lake through the Lerma River, according to the Global Nature Fund.

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Researchers have found that water quality in the lake varies from a low water quality index of 32 to a high of 80.

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According to the U.N., a water quality index of 0-44 is considered poor, while a WQI of 95-100 is considered excellent.

Scientists say that people should not use the water in Lake Chapala for drinking, but people still consume it on a daily basis.

It’s also hard for local doctors to get the community to change their practices.

“Trying to interfere in the community’s health is sometimes to prohibit what they have done for so long. To arrive and tell them not to drink the Chapala water, they say, “well how? If it’s what I have always done?” Chapala Medical Center physician Napoleon Sanchez said.

Chemicals like mercury also enter fish in the lake, which is then consumed by humans.

Fish sampled in Lake Chapala are below the Mexican national standard of 1 parts per million (ppm) total mercury, and scientists say people can eat carp from the lake on a restricted basis.

But if U.S. standards were applied, people would be told to avoid eating fish from the lake all together.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, encourages people to avoid fish with mercury greater than .46 ppm.

Scientists have found mercury in Lake Chapala fish to range from .17 to .7 ppm depending on how close the area tested was the Lerma River.

Children have also tested positive for chemicals in their system.

Local pregnant women are terrified.

“I was going to give birth at home, but I’m going to go to the hospital, so they can check the baby properly,” Chapala resident Catherine Perez said.

One University of Guadalajara study has linked environmental problems at the lake to an epidemic of kidney disease.

Authorities are aware of the problem.

But the government has not responded to CGTN’s repeated requests for comment.

So far nothing has been done to stop the water pollution, and local authorities do not acknowledge that water pollution is to blame, community members said.

As doctors keep urging people to change their ways, little is done to stem the pollution, and children continue to get sick.

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Alasdair Baverstock MA is an award-winning multimedia foreign correspondent based in Mexico City, with more than five years of experience covering Latin America. Originally from London, and with full NCTJ certification, he specialises in news and feature journalism for print, radio and television. His work has previously been used as set-texts in British A-Level examinations. He currently works as CGTN America's Mexico correspondent, and has formerly published work in TIME Magazine, Daily Mail, The Atlantic, Penthouse, Fox News, BBC, Daily Telegraph, TRT World, and others.

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