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Tequila chemical compounds poison Mexican waters, leaves fishermen unemployed

AYOTLAN, Mexico: Jess Sols, a 44-year-old fisherman, along with others, watched the fish they had helped raise and relied on for income go belly up along the shores of the San Onofre reservoir in Jalisco state.

Authorities said that millions of liters of a residue, known as vinasse, created in tequila’s distillation, spilled into the Las Animas creek that flows into the reservoir. Jalisco is the heart of Mexico’s tequila industry. Some 40 percent of the state’s industrially cultivated land is covered in the blue agave used to make tequila.

The residents of Ayotlan fear the contaminated waters could pose a threat to their crops and devastate their local fishing cooperative, whose families have lost their fishing investments and been left without incomes.

Orin Flores, director of Attention to Socio-environmental Conflicts for the state of Jalisco’s environmental protection agency, said 60 to 80 tons of dead fish had been removed from the reservoir.

Tilapia, mojarra, carp and little silvery charales were buried in pits with lime to combat the potent stench of rotting fish.

“It was a really difficult moment to see all of our savings, lives, going into those pits,” said Sols, recalling how since he was 8 years old he started fishing with his father. “I felt so sad then, so powerless, so much anger,” he said, as quoted by ABC News.

Now he worries about what his family will do without their only source of income.
Mauricio Bando, another fisherman, is just hanging on because he took some of his earnings to open a small shop. Now he feeds his wife and children by selling snacks and essentials.

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“This doesn’t give me much because it’s small, but at least I survive,” he told ABC News.

The state environmental agency, territorial development office, state water commission and environmental prosecutor’s office said this month that they would regularly monitor the reservoir and stream’s water to determine what could aid in its cleanup. They also opened investigations to determine responsibility for the spill.

In coming days, the state will also bring in equipment to remove weeds in the water that can also reduce oxygen levels, Flores said. The reservoir’s water is now being studied to determine whether it is safe for crop irrigation.

The investigation into the spill is still in its early stages, but some state authorities and Ayotlan residents blame a company that treats waste from the area’s tequila-producing industry. The plant was closed at the end of September after an inspection revealed that one of its lagoons holding vinasse had a rupture in one of its walls, Flores said.

Carlos Lpez de la Cruz, head of sustainability projects for the Tequila Regulating Council, said the responsible party for the pollution at the reservoir is not a tequila distilling company. He said the plant supposedly at fault had a permit from authorities to treat waste.

He noted that the industry is investing in treatment plants and ways to compost vinasse.

“The damage is irreparable and serious,” said Ayotlan Mayor Rodolfo Hernndez. The mayor blames the Altos Residual Water Treatment plant for the spill.