Court Expert Finds More than 80% of Chevron Waste Pits in Amazon Rainforest Were Never Cleaned
"Devastating Blow" to Chevron, Assert Plaintiffs
Amazon Defense Coalition
10 September 2008 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Paul Paz y Miño: +1 510.281.9020 x302, firstname.lastname@example.org
QUITO, Ecuador - An independent court-appointed expert in Ecuador has found that 42 out of 46 toxic waste pits inspected in the Amazon rainforest operated exclusively by Chevron contain high levels of toxins in violation of environmental norms in both Ecuador and the U.S.
The findings are a devastating blow to Chevron's legal strategy in a class action trial in Lago Agrio, Ecuador filed in 2003 by 30,000 Amazonian residents. The court expert recently assessed damages at between $7.2 and $16.3 billion. A final decision on liability is expected in the coming months.
For years, Chevron has used the prior clean-up as its primary defense in the trial. New evidence - which includes sampling results from several pits Chevron claims to have remediated - has prompted Ecuador's national prosecutor to open a fraud investigation against two Chevron employees and former Ecuadorian officials involved in the remediation.
The court expert, Ecuadorian professor and geologist Richard Cabrera, also concluded in his 4,000-page report that more than 83% of Chevron's 916 waste pits in Ecuador were excluded from the company's remediation. Chevron performed remediation on only 156 of the 916 waste pits that it built and contaminated.
Of the 156 pits Chevron claims to have remediated, 54 were inspected during the trial process. Of those, slightly more than 80% had levels of toxins in violation of Ecuadorian norms, according to the report.
"The findings suggest that Chevron's clean-up was a fraud," said Humberto Piaguaje, a leader of the Secoyas, one of five indigenous groups in the region that claims significant population drops due to the contamination.
Texaco was the exclusive operator of an oil concession in Ecuador from 1964 to 1990 that covered an area the size of Rhode Island. Plaintiffs have accused the company of using sub-standard practices, creating what experts have referred to repeatedly as the "Amazon Chernobyl". Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001 and is defending the case.
Chevron admitted at trial that Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways and abandoned hundreds of the toxic waste pits, which experts believe have caused dramatic spikes in cancer and other health problems. For years Chevron asserted that Texaco cleaned the area and that the trial was a farce, but the scientific evidence at trial clearly contradicts the claim, according to the Cabrera report.
Cabrera, who worked with a team of 14 scientists, reviewed more than 200,000 pages of evidence from both Chevron and the plaintiffs and conducted his own soil and water sampling at 47 of the 378 former Texaco well and production sites. Among his conclusions:
- Of 46 waste pits operated exclusively by Texaco, 42 had levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPHs) over the Ecuadorian norm of 1,000 parts per million - meaning they pose a serious threat to public health. (TPHs contain a variety of life-threatening carcinogens such as benzene.)
- Thirty-four of the 46 pits operated exclusively by Texaco have levels of TPHs above 5,000 parts per million - an amount more than 50 times greater than typical norms in U.S. states. To secure its release, Texaco had certified that it cleaned up pits with more than 5,000 parts per million TPH.
- Nine of the pits operated exclusively by Texaco had levels of TPHs over 100,000 parts per million - or at least 1000 times higher than Ecuadorian legal norms and 10,000 times higher than typical U.S. norms.
- Chevron separately reported sampling results that violate Ecuadorian norms for 53 of the pits that it operated exclusively - an example of how the company has helped to prove the case against itself, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.
Chevron's purported clean-up was controversial from the beginning. When the lawsuit was filed in 1993 in U.S. federal court, Chevron responded by obtaining a "release" from Ecuador's government before any clean-up work was done and then used it to try to persuade the U.S. judge to dismiss the case.
While the effort failed, Chevron did succeed in transferring the trial to Ecuador by claiming its courts were fair and a more appropriate forum for the trial.
Once the trial began and the evidence became known, Chevron shifted gears again and tried to claim the Ecuador court was biased against it. The company has threatened to sue the government of Ecuador for damages and has hired several high-powered Washington lobbyists - including former Senator Trent Lott and lobbyist Wayne Berman - to pressure the Bush Administration to help quash the case.
Chevron's latest strategy is to attack Cabrera as unqualified, but in 2007 Chevron paid him as a court expert without any objection to his qualifications.
"No court that accepts competent evidence is good enough for Chevron," Piaguaje added.
About the Amazon Defense Coalition:
The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuador's Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation.