A Young Woman Defies Death Threats to Save Her River

Guest blog by Steve Fisher, director of the film Silent River, winner of the 2015 Eric Moe Sustainability Film Award. Click here to watch the film online.

For the past fifty years, an industrial zone outside of Guadalajara, Mexico has grown exponentially along the banks of the Santiago River–the second largest in the country. Over time international companies, including many American companies, descended upon what is known as the El Salto industrial corridor helping make it a massive hub for international production. With the economic growth came waves of chemical pollution. By 2011, more than 1,000 chemicals were found flowing through the river.

In 2012, co-director Jason Jaacks and I travelled to El Salto to film the impact the river had on the people living along its banks. A year later we completed our documentary, Silent River, which follows a young woman who defies death threats to combat the industrial contamination in El Salto. We brought the film through the festival circuit, where it won the Eric Moe Sustainability award, presented by the Environmental Film Festival and National Geographic. Months later the national TV and digital network FUSION aired the film.

Silent River premiered in conjunction with my FUSION investigation showing a number of multinational companies along the river’s banks had repeatedly broken Mexico’s environmental laws by dumping large amounts chemicals into the river. Mexican government documents showed that, despite records of illegal dumping practices, the National Water Commission had not applied one fine for discharging excessive toxic waste in the past ten years. The lack of regulation has allowed the river to become one of the most polluted in the country–and a health hazard.

In 2008, a young boy named Miguel Ángel Lopez Rocha fell into a tributary to the Santiago River. Eighteen days later he was dead from chemical poisoning. The National Human Rights Commission, local activists and family members insist that contact with the river caused his death. The National Water Commission refutes that claim. Meanwhile, health records show kidney failure as the fifth highest cause of death in El Salto while it is the tenth highest illnesses in the the state of Jalisco.

Little has changed in the three years since Jason and I arrived to film Sofía and her family as they grappled with the grave threats against them. Today, they continue to push for the cleanup of the Santiago River and demand that factories begin improve their waste treatment.

To learn more about Sofía and her family see the film’s website.

Watch Steve Fisher and co-director Jason Jaacks introduce Silent River at their EFF screening and award ceremony. 

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