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Residents of Panama's Los Santos Province Demonstrate Over River Pollution

PANAMA CITY, Panama

Four different protests were held in Panama's Los Santos Province last week over recent contamination of the La Villa River.

Students in the El Ejido primary school made a human chain in protest of the pollution with the toxic herbicide atrazine, and students at a number of primary schools in Las Tablas blocked the street in front of Los Santos’ government buildings.

University students also protested at the entrance to the University of Panama Las Tablas.

An organization called the Pro Life Committee held protests in Las Tablas, and said they would continue with their demonstrations. They said the population does not trust water from the Rufina Alfaro potabilization plant.

Nelson Cedeño, a member of the group and spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, said the economy has experienced a 30-35 percent decline due to the problem of contaminated water.

Mario Omar González, another member of the group, said a family of seven in the area has to spend between $70 and $90 USD to buy water.

On October 10th, Panama’s Public Ministry began monitoring the La Villa River again to determine whether heavy rains in the area had caused an increase in atrazine levels, or if current levels were being maintained. Herrera Province District Attorney Enereida Barrías said atrazine could last 6-12 months in the soil after its application.

Rafael González, president of alcoholic beverage manufacturer Campos de Pesé, which has been blamed for the contamination, complained that the investigations were focused exclusively on his firm.

Campos de Pesé said it had stopped using atrazine and other agrochemicals after the contamination was first detected back in June, and that authorities had determined that the pollution came from further upriver than its facilities.

At the end of September the National Environmental Authority released a report saying that the La Villa River basin was 92 percent deforested, largely to make way for agriculture. The report said this had affected soil, water sources and biodiversity.

Critica newspaper reported that 71 producers in the area were working on reforestation.

On September 19th, Panama's Ministry of Health had to prohibit consumption of water from the La Villa River in the Azuero region for several days, after high levels of atrazine were again found in the river’s water.

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