"We lived in a house about 20 yards away from an oil well. Another Texaco oil well was upstream from where we got our drinking water, and the water was usually oily with a yellowish foam. I had 11 children. I lost Pedro when he was 19.... He had three cancerous tumors: in his lungs, liver, and his leg."
– Woman from Sacha
The Ecuadorian Amazon is suffering a public health crisis of immense proportions. The root cause of this crisis is water contamination from 40 years of oil operations. The oil infrastructure developed and operated by Texaco had utterly inadequate environmental controls, and consequently Texaco dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater directly into the region's rivers. The contamination of water essential for the daily activities of thousands of people has resulted in an epidemic of cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, and other ailments.
"It started with a little sore on my toe, which grew a bit larger. The water near my house, where I washed clothes, was full of crude and the sore grew bigger, as if the flesh were rotting. It didn't hurt, but I couldn't stand its stink. I had a fever and chills."
– Woman whose leg was amputated due to cancer
Studies have attempted to quantify the health impact of Texaco's operations in Ecuador. Scientific surveys have confirmed what local people know from their own experience: rates of cancer, including mouth, stomach and uterine cancer, are elevated in areas where there is oil contamination. Other studies have found high rates of childhood leukemia in particular among cancers, as well as an abnormal number of miscarriages. Children whose mothers were exposed to contaminated water have been born with birth defects.
"The girl is 15.... She's very sick. She was born that way, not moving with soft bones. The doctors were never able to tell me what was wrong with her. Now she can sit up, crawl, pull herself along the floor, turn over. She says "mama," "papa," and cries when she's hungry or thirsty.... I have to feed her by hand."
– Mother whose daughter has birth defects
Beyond the epidemic of these deadly health problems, far more people suffer from frequent illness of a more minor type. Those who bathe in contaminated rivers report skin rashes. Those who drink the water report diarrhea. In this way, oil contamination has become a constant, oppressive, inescapable fact of life for thousands of residents of the Oriente. The overall toll that oil exploitation has taken on the region is difficult to quantify, and can perhaps best be understood through the words of people directly affected.