leadbundlesWith corporate globalization, trade increased along the U.S.-Mexico border and so did pollution. However, trade agreements like NAFTA fail to hold polluting corporations responsible or to provide resources for environmental protection.

Of the 66 documented toxic waste sites in Mexican border states, the most infamous is Tijuana's Metales y Derivados, a U.S.-owned maquiladora factory that recycled batteries imported from the U.S. The owner, José Kahn, fled across the border when the maquiladora was shut down in 1994 after community reports of health problems and repeated violations of environmental law documented by the Mexican government. Mr. Kahn left behind 23,000 tons of mixed contaminated waste, including 7,000 tons of lead slag, exposed to the elements and threatening workers and families living in the adjacent Tijuana neighborhood of Colonia Chilpancingo.

EHC and the community conducted a campaign for over a decade to compel a cleanup. In 1998, EHC and the community filed a petition with NAFTA's environmental agency, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The commission's report, released in 2002, concluded that the site represented a "grave risk to human health." Yet the commission has no authority or resources to clean up toxic sites. After over a decade of organizing and advocacy, EHC and the community finally celebrated the signing of a landmark cleanup agreement in 2004 with the Mexican government and the formation of a bi-national, community/government working group. The cleanup was completed in 2008, ahead of schedule, and included independent community monitoring. (Download the full cleanup chronology.)

Metales y Derivados is the poster child for the failure of NAFTA to live up to its negotiators' promise to protect public health and the environment. However, Metales y Derivados symbolizes environmental justice achieved. The case established for the first time a structure for cross-border and community/government collaboration on toxic site cleanups. 

Citizen's Petition to the NAFTA
Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)

The CEC established a process for citizens of the NAFTA countries to file a petition against the government of any of the participating countries (the United States, Mexico and Canada) for failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws. EHC was one of the first to take advantage of this process in October 1998. A copy of our petition can be found at: http://www.cec.org/files/pdf/sem/98-7-SUB-OE.pdf

Information on submitting a citizen's petition is at: http://www.cec.org/citizen/guide_submit/index.cfm?varlan=english

CEC report NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation accepted [EHC and the Colonia Chilpancingo's Citizens' Submission Petition] in 1998 and released its [Metales y Derivados Final Factual Record] in 2002, confirming the community's concerns about high levels of toxics at the site.


Community/Government Agreements

The cleanup agreement, the agreement to establish the Working Group, and the agreement to finalize the cleanup project, signed in June and July 2004 and July 2008 respectively, are landmarks for environmental justice. These documents are only available in Spanish.

Selected Cleanup Process Documents

These documents record key moments in the struggle to clean up Metales y Derivados.
Foro sobre Metales y Derivados Historia y Lucha de la Colonia Chilpancingo. These documents are only available in Spanish.

Community Monitoring Record

Independent Consultant's Final Monitoring Report to the Community on the cleanup.

Media coverage

For links to many of the print articles written over the past ten years, click here.

Toxinformer articles

Environmental Health Coalition has documented many important moments in the struggle to clean up the toxic Metales y Derivados site in our newsletters.

The Great March for Border Environmental Justice: (August 2001)

Tijuana residents demand cleanup of

toxic site during 24-hour vigil: (April 2002)

Community pressure makes Mexican officials

take action at Metales site: (Click to View)

Chilpancingo residents present

community-based solution ... (July 2003, page 3

Update: Developments in the fight

to cleanup Metales y Derivados (October 2003, page 10)

EHC, Colectivo Chilpancingo form Metales cleanup... (April 2004, page 8)

Victory at last! Community celebrates... (August 2004, page 3)

Metales Y Derivados Update: (February 2006, page 9)

After More Than a Decade of Struggle,

Community Celebrates... (December 2007, page 4)

Articles and Books

The following writings put the struggle to clean up the toxic Metales y Derivados site in the worldwide context of environmental justice.

1. WARREN COUNTY'S LEGACY FOR MEXICO'S BORDER MAQUILADORAS, an article by Amelia Simpson, Director of the Border Environmental Justice Campaign, published by the Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal, August 22, 2007. 

2. In "Reading Chilpancingo," English teacher Linda Christensen describes a visit to Colonia Chilpancingo in Tijuana, Spring 2006.

3. The following books all contain chapters featuring the work of EHC and the Colectivo Chilpancingo.

Challenging the Chip

Ted Smith, David Sonnenfeld, David Naguib Pellow, eds., 2006, Temple University Press, includes a chapter discussing NAFTA, environmental justice and labor rights in the U.S.-Mexico border region written by Connie García and Amelia Simpson, Director of the Border Environmental Justice Campaign.

Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-U.S. Immigration in the Global Age

Kari Lydersen, 2005, Common Courage Press, includes a chapter featuring EHC and the Colectivo's struggle to clean up Metales y Derivados and address the injustices of NAFTA in the border region.

Nafta from Below

Published by the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, includes a chapter on the Metales y Derivados struggle.


See EHC communities mobilizing for environmental justice in the cross-border region.

1. Maquilápolis

2. Journey to Planet Earth "Future Conditional"

The ten-year struggle to clean up the abandoned Tijuana lead smelter, Metales y Derivados, culminated in late 2008 and represents a binational environmental justice and public health victory. EHC and the Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental thank the following people and organizations, whose support and efforts made the cleanup of Metales y Derivados possible, as well as the thousands more who signed petitions and postcards, joined us for actions, and shared their talents and resources supporting our efforts:

Irene Silvia Aguilar  • Guadalupe Aguirre De Luján • María Luisa Altamirano • Martha Ángel Arias • José Bravo  • Trinidad Calleros Isabel  • Lupita Castaneda • Inés Castillo M • Magdalena Cerda • Martha Cervantes Soberanez • María De La Luz Chávez Pérez • Paula Contreras Delgadillo • Soledad Contreras Salazar • María Coronado Jiménez • Carolina Cruz García • Verónica Cruz García • Marisol Díaz Bautista • Beatriz Domínguez Macías • Dora Esther Domínguez Ramos • Luz Elena Félix • María de Jesús Flores • Myrna Patricia Flores Díaz • Yanira Fonseca Mendoza • Julieta Fuentes Ramos • Vicky Funari • Blanca Ofelia Gallardo • Connie García • Elva García Calleros • Eva García Calleros • José Antonio García • Parvin Elvira García Calleros • Sandra V García Chincoya • Jorge Glackman-Guerra • Carmen Hernández Preciado • Pilar Jaime Castro • Margarita Jaimes • Cruz Adriana Jiménez Rodríguez • Martina Juárez Rodarte • Ana Langarica Vallecillos • Evangelina Langarica V • Geomara Lara Ruíz • Joanna Itzel Lerma Luján • Blanca E López • Casimira López Solórzano • Luz López Hernández • María Guadalupe Luján Aguirre • María De Lourdes Luján Aguirre • César Luna • Adela Martínez Castro • Sandra Martínez • Enrique Medina • María Meléndez De Fong • Rosalba Mendoza Ibarra • María Guadalupe Mercado • Kenia Elizabeth Meza Cervantes • María Consuelo Muñoz López • Esteban Naranjo • Martha Ojeda • Micaela Ontiveros B • José Efraín Ortega Contreras • María Leonor Ortega Ledesma • Sara Noemí Osuna • Jermán Páez Rodríguez • Yesenia Palomares Rodríguez • Andrea Pedro Aguilar • María Luisa Pérez Mendoza • Margarita Pérez De Chávez • Sonia Pérez Gómez • María Alicia Ramos O • Silvia Rangel López • Olga Marta Rendón • María Elena Rojo Ramírez • Guadalupe Ruíz • Juan M. Ruíz Ofiga • María Guadalupe Ruíz Mendoza • Aurora Salazar Flores • María De La Luz Salcedo • David Saldaña Seguro • Vicenta Saucedo Escobedo • Magdalena Silva Ramírez • Amelia Simpson • Kazuo Tanaka • Sergio De La Torre • Dulce María Torres Velarde • Gonzalo Valdez Delgado • Martha Valdes • Yolanda Valez D • Graciela Villalvaso • Emeteria Areli Villatoro Córdova • Karina Elizabeth Zavala Romero • Border 2012 Program • Border Environmental Cooperation Commission • CITTAC • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency • Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales • Secretaría de Protección al Ambiente del Estado de Baja California • Charles Stewart Mott Foundation • Colin Rodríguez Griswold Memorial Fund • French American Charitable Trust • Ford Foundation Global Greengrants Fund • Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation • Marguerite Casey Foundation • Marisla Foundation • Mitchell Kapor Foundation • Nathan Cummings Foundation • New World Foundation • New York Community Trust • North American Fund for Environmental Cooperation • Orca Fund at the San Diego Foundation • Panta Rhea Foundation • Solidago Foundation • Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock