The mysterious deaths of more than 40,000 migratory birds at a Mexican reservoir will be the first ecological disaster investigated by the environmental body set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation agreed Friday to explore why thousands of American coots, mallards, ruddy ducks and other waterfowl from the United States and Canada have died since December at Silva Reservoir in the central state of Guanajuato.
The official version was that a pesticide called endosulfan was dumped into the lake. But ecologists pointed out that many of the birds showed no sign of endosulfan poisoning and that the pesticide - expensive, and little-used in the area - isn’t soluble in water and therefore couldn’t have infected the whole lake.
Dissatisfied with the Mexican government’s actions, the ecologists turned to NAFTA. On Wednesday the U.S. National Audubon Society, joined by the Mexican Center of Environmental Rights and the Group of 100, formally petitioned the Montreal-based NAFTA commission to investigate.
The case will be watched closely.
During bitter negotiations over NAFTA in 1993, the Clinton administration came under attack from conservationists who complained that the treaty failed to address ecological problems which cross international borders. The environmental commission was created to answer those concerns, but efforts to set high ecological standards and grant the body police powers were defeated as the United States, Canada and Mexico all invoked sovereignty.
What the commission can do, however, is recommend sanctions against polluters and bring public pressure to bear.