Environmental Groups formally accuse Exportadora de Sal, S.A. (ESSA) of Environmental Criminal Violations at its Guerrero Negro Saltworks
by Mark Spalding

March 1999

On March 10, 1999, Greenpeace Mexico, Grupo de los Cien, and UGAM (a Union of fifty Mexican Environmental Groups) submitted a formal 23-page complaint with the Mexican Federal Prosecutor that Exportadora de Sal, S.A. (ESSA) has violated environmental laws at its existing Guerrero Negro saltworks operations, located next to Laguna Ojo de Liebre. This complaint, known as a "denunciation" under Mexican law, demands that the Mexican Federal Prosecutor bring criminal charges against ESSA. A denunciation brings forward a very formal accusation to the competent authorities of an illegal act.

The denunciation notes these Mexican groups' association with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in an informal coalition to oppose ESSA's proposed new saltworks at Laguna San Ignacio. IFAW and NRDC have endorsed the denunciation filed by their Mexican coalition partners and delivered signed copies of the legal pleading to the consular offices of the Government of Mexico in Boston and Washington, D.C. respectively. The international groups are involved because the sea turtle has been an internationally protected species since 1996, and also because Laguna Ojo de Liebre is part of the El Vizcaino Whale Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, because the Lagoon is within a Biosphere Reserve which is part of the international system of Biosphere Reserves also established by UNESCO, and because it is host to a number of migratory species which live in all three nations of North America. Among these species is the gray whale which annually migrates through Canada, US and Mexican nations' waters to reproduce itself in the lagoons of Baja California.

What the denunciation says The denunciation begins by describing the Guerrero Negro saltworks, including its products and waste generation. The denunciation quotes extensively from the July 1998 Profepa (the prosecutor for environmental protection) turtle die-off report for facts related to the turtles, other environmental impacts, the May 1998 release of brine waste, and the discovery of illegally disposed of batteries.

The final Profepa turtle die-off report indicates the turtle deaths occurred near the ESSA saltworks in Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur, Mexico (for an English translation of this report, see According to the report, the extensive necropsies and toxicology done on the turtles by a Profepa-formed interagency scientific task force conclusively confirms the deaths were the result of exposure to a toxic plume of salt brine waste released from the saltworks. This was corroborated by tests on plants and other fauna including mollusks, as well as through sediment samples (many in comparison to healthy specimens from Laguna San Ignacio). All showed higher than normal levels of lead, magnesium and sodium and depressed levels of selenium and potassium.

As if this were not enough proof of the risk of harm presented by the saltworks, 287 batteries (some constituting illegal hazardous materials disposal) were found as the investigators collected their sediment samples. And, on May 1, 1998 another significant brine waste release that killed hundreds of fishes was observed while the Profepa investigators were present. Extensive damage to plants and animals were observed as the result of the two releases and preliminary evidence of long-term damage to the ecosystem was found.

The denunciation reminds the Prosecutor that the Mexican environmental authorities did not authorize the brine waste releases or the disposal of the batteries in the lagoon.

Based on this statement of facts, the denunciation affirms that:

The denunciation prays for the law to be effectively enforced under the circumstances described.

Failure to enforce the law

This denunciation was filed because Profepa has failed in its obligation to prosecute ESSA for the turtle deaths for over 9 months, has signed a deal with ESSA for "further investigations" and has compromised the integrity of the process. This action should finally put to rest Mitsubishi's contention that its proposed saltworks at Laguna San Ignacio would be environmentally-benign. Mark J. Spalding is an international environmental policy and law professor (visiting faculty) at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, which is part of the University of California, San Diego. He is an advisor to the coalition of environmental groups opposed to the saltworks. A previous article on the Vizcaino Desert Reserve was published in Planeta in 1996. He may be contacted for more information at

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