Oil exploitation in Ecuador's Amazon basin produces a 'public health emergency'

This release is also available in Spanish.

Exploring for oil and extracting it from the Amazon region of northeastern Ecuador has boosted the country's income over the last several decades, but it has also resulted in a "public health emergency" due to the negative effects on the local environment and on the health of persons who live in the petroleum-production areas. That is according to an English-language article published in the most recent (March 2004) issue of the "Revista Panamericana de Salud Pblica/Pan American Journal of Public Health." The "Revista/Journal" is a monthly, peer-reviewed scientific journal. The "Revista/Journal" article summarizes and reviews the scientific research that has been done on the environmental and health consequences of oil development in Ecuador.

Since the 1970s more than two billion barrels of crude oil have been pumped from oil fields in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Petroleum has been the "engine" for Ecuador's economy, helping push per capita income from US$ 290 in 1972 to US$ 1200 in 2000. Oil now accounts for some 40% of the nation's export earnings and of the national government's budget.

While boosting the Ecuadorian economy, oil production has also had serious consequences for the environment. For example, in just the period of 1972 through 1993, more than 30 billion gallons (114 billion liters) of toxic wastes and crude oil were discharged into the land and waterways of the Ecuadorian Amazon. This far exceeds the 10.8 million gallons (40.9 million liters) spilled in the "Exxon Valdez" tanker disaster in 1989 in Alaska, one of the largest sea oil spills that has ever occurred.

Analyses carried out in Ecuador in 1999 of rivers used by communities that are close to oil fields showed high levels of total petroleum hydrocarbons in the waters. In some streams, hydrocarbon concentrations were more than 100 ti

Contact: Bill Black
Pan American Health Organization

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