San Miguel Ixtahuacán
San Miguel Ixtahuacán is a municipality in the San Marcos department of Guatemala. It compromises 19 villages and the population is about 39,000 people. The majority of people are ethnically Maya- Mam, and speak the Mam and Spanish languages. Most inhabitants subsist by farming, growing crops of corn, beans, vegetables and fruits, irrigated from the Cuilco River and its tributaries.
In 2004, Goldcorp, a Canadian- owned mining corporation based in Vancouver, British Columbia, began construction of Marlin Mine. Marlin Mine is a gold and silver mine located on the border between San Miguel Ixtahuacán and the neighboring municipality of Sipacapa. Approximately 80% of the mine is located in San Miguel Ixtahuacán. There has been controversy over Marlin Mine, owing to accusations by some community members that they were not properly consulted prior to the construction of the mine, as required by national Guatemalan law and international law. There has been ongoing violence in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, both against mining property and against mining opposition.
In a 2009 press conference, the Catholic Diocese of the department of San Marcos presented the results of a two-year study they carried out of the quality of surface waters surrounding Marlin Mine. The press conference was held in Guatemala City, and was attended by environmental activists, human rights activists, mining personnel, and members of the public. The study found that surface water used by community members in San Miguel Ixtahuacán for crop irrigation, herd animals, and human consumption, has been contaminated by heavy metals such as arsenic and copper. The levels of these heavy metals exceed Guatemalan standards, international World Health Organization standards, and standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water. The study explained the specific steps taken to test the water, and has been published online in Spanish, and in English. However, the study did not compare its findings to historical metals levels in the rivers, which were shown in the baseline study to have naturally high metals levels, which exceeded guidelines for certain uses, including drinking water, prior to the existence of the mining operation.
Officials from Goldcorp and from the Guatemalan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MARN) who attended the press conference accused the Catholic Diocese of using flawed methods that are unscientific. They have posted videos on YouTube, in Spanish, demonstrating the strategies they use to test surface waters. The results of the MARN tests have not been released to the public, but Goldcorp reports their monitoring annually on their website.
A subsequent 2010 study carried out under the initiative of the Diocese reported that, with the exception of aluminum content in one sample, samples of river water were all within "US Benchmarks"; and that all drinking water sampled had metals content below limits set in the US EPA’s National Drinking Water Regulations. This study, and the ongoing environmental monitoring are described in more detail in the article on the Marlin Mine.
- Imai, Shin et al. 2007. "Breaching Indigenous Law: Canadian Mining in Guatemala." Indigenous Law Journal. Vol 6: 1.
- Comisión Pastoral Paz y Ecología. 2009. "Agua alrededor de la mina Marlin no es apta para consumo humano." Available Online: http://www.resistencia-mineria.org/espanol/?q=node/171
- Human Rights Assessment of Goldcorp's Marlin Mine, May 2010: Appendix H: External Environmental Review of the Marlin Mine, prepared by KPC Consulting for the HRA, March 2010
- Toxic Metals and Indigenous Peoples Near the Marlin Mine in Western Guatemala Potential Exposures and Impacts on Health, Niladri Basu, MSc, PhD and Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD, with the assistance of the International Forensic Program of Physicians for Human Rights, May 2010