SAN DIEGO, California – Burns, allergic reactions, dermatitis and even some ruined boots are among the evidence presented by Border Patrol agents from the Imperial Beach station in California in their complaint of exposure to noxious chemical substances in their daily work along the border wall.
In the locker of one of the approximately 300 agents is a pair of boots whose soles were destroyed. Rather than throw them away, their owner decided to keep them as proof of a bigger problem, the consequences of working amid sewage and industrial waste.
This Border Patrol agent jumped into a stagnant pool of water a few feet from the wall between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, to catch two migrants trying to place wire netting over an overflowing channel. But soon after he waded through the water, his boots were ruined.
Though no analysis of the water has yet been completed to prove it, the Border Patrol union claims it contains chemical substances brought across the border by the Tijuana River, which activists report contains residual waters, chemical contaminants and heavy metals.
The quantity of sewage flooding is a problem that occurred years ago and returned last February when at least 28 million gallons (106 million liters) of contaminated water were reported coming from Tijuana to the southern coast of San Diego, according to an estimate by the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC).
The Border Patrol union’s report was strengthened over the last five months, when almost a third of the 300 agents at the station guarding the extreme southwest of the country reported illnesses attributable to their contact with chemical substances.
The evil odors, they said, occur every day and little can be done to avoid them, since sewage surrounds a point where many undocumented migrants attempt to cross the border.
Three agents on duty in that area, and who asked to remain anonymous, said they felt pain from being exposed to pollution nine hours a day. Despite the high temperatures, they prefer to wear long sleeves, gloves and if possible protective glasses at all times.
The union is already considering taking legal action and it would not be the first time, since in the 1990s it filed a lawsuit that forced the government to equip agents with articles of basic protection, including gloves, masks and disinfectants for their hands.
The new lawsuit would be added to the combined suit of Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and the port of San Diego, which have announced their intention to take action against the IBWC on grounds it failed to attend to what they consider a health emergency.