New Mexico

'Toxic Tours of Hell' through industry-polluted town given by New Mexico woman

Thursday, April 17, 2014 by: L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
Tags: Toxic Tours of Hell, industry pollution, New Mexico

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(NaturalNews) Over the past decades, it's as if a season of cold winter has befallen mankind, erasing the green and welcoming a chill of toxins and pollutants that have left people trampled on like they are just dead, brown leaves. Big agriculture and the big oil industry were invested in heavily. As energy and profit became top priority, the environment and the people's health went ignored. Regulatory agencies were erected to monitor the situation, but over time they became merely a gatekeeper for industry, as standards were bought off.

But a new era of awakenings is on the horizon. Now, it's as if a season of spring is slowly blooming before mankind's eyes. The color is returning as people rise in awareness. Blade by blade, green is arising from the trampled grounds. With the buds appearing, it's as if mankind is rising to the occasion, resurrecting in a time of pollution, cold confusion and utter toxicity.

'Toxic Tours of Hell' highlight town's most polluted areas

This is the case in Aztec, New Mexico, where a group of environmentally concerned individuals has risen in awareness. Nestled in the San Juan Basin, 69-year-old Shirley McNall is part of a group of four who brings awareness to those seeking answers in an industry-polluted town. The group, consisting of Tweeti Blancett, Jan Rees and Kris Dixon, plus McNall, has been giving tours of the town since 2005, showcasing dilapidated areas and the sources of pollution.

The group, nicknamed "the Four Grans," guides visitors on "Toxic Tours of Hell," in which they lead the curious and the scientific through the town's most polluted waste sites.

McNall says that those who live in the San Juan Basin are exposed to air that makes life there plain hell. She organized the group to bring awareness of the institutions behind the pollution and the sources from which the carcinogens spout. The elderly group of four met at a clean air conference about a decade ago and all united on a mission to improve the air and water quality of San Juan County.

Scientists, officials, and tribes alike take the tour to understand the severity of the pollution

Now, McNall welcomes visitors to take a ride in her blue pickup truck. Instead of hitting up tourist sites, she takes visitors to gas pads and waste disposal sites that are emitting toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The tour takes visitors to eight sites. Scientists, tribes and officials take the tour to further understand the severity of the situation. McNall says that she's taken film crews from other countries on the tour and even led an official from the Natural Resources Defense Council to see the damage. All are stunned by the stench and the extent of the pollution.

Living in the area as homesteaders for over 35 years, McNall and her family became concerned when oil wells started popping up around their property. By 2010, McNall and her team started a nonprofit human rights organization called the San Juan Bucket Brigade. They hit up their tour sites and took air quality samples from three oil and gas facilities. The results showed elevated levels of carcinogens that exceeded EPA standards.

McNall, concerned about her own breathing difficulties and eye irritation, stated, "This County has higher than average rates of asthma, especially among children, and elevated rates of cancer, which is alarming. The problem is that a lot of the oil field workers know what's going on, but they don't dare say a word. Of course, the workers get protective gear to wear, but what do us residents get?"

Supposed leak site sits nearby elementary school

The most shocking stop on her "Toxic Tour of Hell" is stop number eight, an oil well site near the McCoy Elementary playground. The well site, reeking of gas fumes, is owned by XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

"I got a call... telling us that the gas pad was stinkin' something fierce, despite their car's windows rolled up when they drove by," McNall said, upon the discovery of the noxious leak site.

After contacting the XTO Energy Lease Operator and inspectors, McNall was told that no leak was occurring at the site.

San Juan County Commissioner Scott Eckstein said, "I refer people who have complained to the state's Air Quality Bureau. They deal with refineries as far as emissions and regulations go. The handful of complaints over the years (have been) over a strong chemical smell from a refinery, for instance, but the state is in charge of that."

The EPA conducts air quality index reports for San Juan County and dubbed the area as being in "good," standing, with air pollution posing no threat to human health.

Still, McNall believes that much of the regulations aren't telling the whole story, and very little is being done to ensure clean air and water.

"It's my purpose on the tour to show how people have to live among the wells and refineries and what that means to their pursuit of happiness and well-being," she said. "In this county, big oil always [reigns] supreme."

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