Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II) / Cubanet, Ernesto
Posted on July 29, 2015
Cubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 28 July 2015 – Between the
years 2004 and 2007, 65 children from the Los Sitios neighborhood in
Central Havana, 7 to 10 years of age, underwent testing in order to
determine their degree of lead poisoning. The research, conducted by a
team of researchers from the Cuban National Institute of Health,
Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM), found that 46.2% of the children
exceeded the acceptable levels for adults according to the World Health
Organization (10.0 mg/dl) and that 67.7% already were demonstrating
learning difficulties associated with poisoning from this heavy metal.
According to the scientists, who recommended extending the investigation
to other areas of the capital, the group of those affected presented
with "diminished reading abilities, more limited vocabulary, poor
reasoning, very slow reactions and poor psychomotor coordination." Also,
concern about the long term consequences was raised due to lead exposure
being associated not only with reduction in academic performance but
with changes in hearing, behavior, low self esteem, suicide attempts,
depressive syndromes, aggression, and even mental retardation or death.
Perhaps because the research involved some "taboo topics" in the
official public debate like childhood, health and the poor living
conditions of Cubans, the results were not repeated in national press
outlets, even though they were published in issue number 47(2) of 2009
of the Cuban Magazine of Health and Epidemiology [found at
http://scielo.sld.cu; most of the studies mentioned here are available
on the internet], and years before, in 2003, the INHEM magazine itself
had brought to light a study1 by several of its researchers about lead
levels also in children in the Central Havana township, perhaps one of
the most affected by the poor health-sanitation conditions and by its
location in a highly contaminated area.
Works like the foregoing join a list of investigations developed by
Cuban scientists who belong to official institutions which signal the
catastrophic effects of the island's ineffective environmental policy,
especially because of the link they observe with direct damage to human
Official Sources Note the Problem
In early 2015, the first issue of the digital magazine Science on Your
PC, corresponding to January-March, published the extract from a
dissertation2 by a group of researchers from the University of the East
in Santiago, Cuba, about the low risk-perception and disinformation on
the part of the residents of fishing communities about heavy metal
contamination in the waters of the bay and surrounding areas.
According to the study, even though the Santiago Bay ecosystem is highly
contaminated, there exists no government strategy to curb the negative
effects of the heavy metals on the health of the residents of the city.
Similarly, the inhabitants and even the fishing cooperative workers
receive no information about the toxicity of the waters and the foods
that they extract from them.
Santiago is, after the bay of Havana, the most poisoned on the island,
and several sources discharge contamination into it such as the Antonio
Maceo Thermoelectric Center, the November 30 Forming Company
Electroplating Plant, the Celia Sanchez Textile Company, the repair
workshops of the Electric Company and the Polygraphic. All use the
principal rivers and their tributaries to discharge wastes without any
Despite this, according to the research, in the area "everyone claims
that they have never been kept from fishing (…) This prohibition on
fishing has been imposed only in the event of an outbreak of diarrheal
illnesses and, of course, in the case of a closed season as with shrimp.
(…) None of those interviewed from the fishing grounds knows about the
heavy metals; they have not even heard this term."
People from other regions of the country, also visibly affected by
pollution, demonstrate equal ignorance about the phenomenon. The
government's policies of concealment in most cases are due to economic
strategies, as deduced by those investigations that link cancer levels
to the degree of contamination of the waters in mining or highly
In the research report "Cleaner Production Strategy for the INPUD
Galvanic Factory" (2006)3, the authors, belonging to the Central
University of Las Villas, recognize that the main factor that impeded
the design of a filtration system for heavy metals and toxic residues in
the galvanic factory of the National Industry Producing Domestic
Appliances (INPUD) was the impossibility of developing means of
environmental protection because these raised the costs of production, a
luxury that the Cuban economy could not afford, much less in the middle
of the program called "Energetic Revolution" promoted by Fidel Castro,
where he required them to commit to producing 350,000 pressure cookers
benefitting the "Battle of Ideas."
According to the researchers, at that time, "the treatment at the end of
the pipe [filtration of pollution discharged into rivers and reservoirs]
was improving the contamination problem but not reducing the costs [of
production]," in a factory that employed Czech technology from 1964,
"with very deteriorated technology and obvious obsolescence."
In 2001, the factory had put into operation a wastewater treatment
plant, but at the same time, it encountered construction problems
because of which chrome and nickel wastes continued to be discharged
directly into a small stream and from this to the Arroyo Grande dam,
belonging to the Rio Sagua watershed with an area of more than 2,000 km².
This discharge into the groundwaters of the region could be related to
the high levels of cancer that was reported by the province of Villa
Clara where the highest incidence of cases on the island is recorded,
according to statistics from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health itself.
In that regard, a report entitled "Contribution to Environmental
Management in the Context of Urban Agricultural Production in the City
of Santa Clara," carried out between January and February of 2009 by a
group of authors from the Provincial Meteorological Center and the
Agricultural Research Center of the Central University of Las Villas,
found high concentrations of lead, cadmium, nickel and other harmful
substances in the soils and waters of several urban agriculture
production systems in the city of Santa Clara. On comparing them to the
standard established by Cuban regulation NC-493, from 2006, it was
observed that "in organic gardens the concentrations of heavy metals
were greater (…) with possible risk in some cases for human health."
Similar studies, but focused on the petroleum areas of Boca de Jaruco in
Santa Cruz del Norte and in a town near a goldmine on the Island of
Youth, show that one of the fundamental reasons that the investigations
are not disseminated and that urgent measures are not taken is the
government's economic interests.
In 2003, the magazine Earth and Space Sciences [Vol. 4, pp. 27-33],
published the study "Arsenic and Heavy Metals in the Waters in the Area
of Delita, Island of Youth, Cuba," by a group of scientists from the
Geophysical and Astronomical Institute and from the National Hydraulic
The text speaks of "a reduction in the maximum permissible limit for
arsenic in drinking water," which had unleashed the onset of chronic
illnesses like cancer in people who had ingested drinking water with
lethal concentrations of arsenic for long periods.
Populations from Batey de la Mina and from the Delita goldmine in the
southeast of the Island of Youth, were and are exposed to arsenic
concentrations higher than the detectable limit. In the Manantial La
Mina station alone were recorded values that exceed the Cuban regulation
of 50 mg/L-1 as well as the World Health Organization guideline of 10
The "Benign" Purpose of the Studies
In spite of these alarming measurements, according to what the
investigators themselves expressed, all the clinical studies that have
been carried out in the area by governmental agencies interested in the
territory's tourist development were for the express purpose of
demonstrating the "therapeutic benefits of Delita's waters and sludges"
and not to connect the appearance and behavior of diverse illnesses with
the ingestion and external use of arsenical waters.
The group of Cuban researchers is aware of the toxic impact on
residents' health in the so-called "special township" that, in recent
years, has demonstrated a rising trend in mortality rates from
cerebro-vascular diseases, notably exceeding other regions of the
country: "The clinic where the residents of Batey de la Mina, the
Argelia Victoria People's Council No. 6, are treated, has shown a marked
increase in the years 1994, 1996 and 1999."
"If one considers," continues the final report of the study, "the
transit time of the underground waters from Delita, which is 13 years
(…) and subtract those years from the date of the first increase in
deaths from this cause (1994), the resulting date is 1981, which marks
the beginning of the decade in which the most important exploration
studies were carried out in the mine, as well as the drainage and direct
dumping of the underground waters on the surface (1982), showing some
possible relationship between these events. (…) Furthermore, although
there exists no detailed study by clinics and areas that indicate the
behavior of those dead from malignant tumors, this condition constitutes
the main cause of death in adults as well as of premature death in the
township, also with an upward trend in the last decade. Lung cancer (…)
has shown a startling increase between the years 2000 and 2001 for the
According to other researchers, Delita's reservoir area is regarded as a
uranium mining prospect, a considerable concentration of this element
having been identified in a sample from the deep part.
The thousands of facts offered in the studies carried out by state
scientific institutions themselves exceed the limits of these pages, and
at the same time, contradict many aspects of the Cuban government's
official discourse that speaks of health programs and educational
strategies but persists in ignoring a true environmental catastrophe
that threatens to transform into another nightmare that new chapter of
the Cuban revolution that has been referred to as "prosperous and
1Aguilar Valdés, J. et al., "Niveles de plomo en sangre y factores
asociados, en niños del municipio de Centro Habana", Revista Cubana de
Higiene y Epidemiología, 2003; 41(1).
2 Rodríguez Heredia, Dunia et al., "Educación ambiental vs. baja
percepción acerca de la contaminación por metales pesados en comunidades
costeras", Ciencia en su PC, 2015, enero-marzo, 1, 13-28. Centro de
Estudios Multidisciplinarios de Zonas Costeras (CEMZOC), Universidad de
Oriente, Santiago de Cuba.
3 Cachaldora Francisco, Isidro Javier et al., "Estrategia de producción
más limpia para el taller galvánico de INPUD", Universidad Central
"Marta Abreu" de Las Villas (2006).
Source: Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II) / Cubanet,
Ernesto Perez Chang | Translating Cuba -