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‘No safe place’: lead poisoning in the Dominican Republic | Environment

Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic – Elizabeth Mota is rarely able to see the sunrise when she wakes up in the morning.

The 48-year-old lives on the outskirts of the Dominican Republic’s industrial zone in Bajos de Haina, a poor port town in San Cristobal province, just south of the capital Santo Domingo.

With at least 100 companies operating in this area and two industrial parks, this area is the main industrial hub of the country.

The release of toxic smoke from dozens of factories is omnipresent in the lives of residents of the industrial zone.

“When you wake up in the morning, it still looks cloudy. But it’s actually just smoke from the factories,” Mota says, leaning over the side of her small yellow house in the Los Desamparados neighborhood, which means “the Forsaken.” “This contamination is killing us here. The bigger the factories, the sicker we get.

Mota’s house is partially surrounded by these factories, which are located behind cement walls adjoining the roads. The area resembles a shopping mall, with factory names and logos painted on the rough cement walls representing the chemical, pharmaceutical, metallurgical and other industries.

In 2006, Haina was find to be the third most toxic site in the world and was once called the “Dominican Chernobyl”.

Anyone who could afford to leave town did so a long time ago. Those who remain are the poorest residents who cannot afford to move.

Skin lesions, respiratory problems, and a myriad of other health issues have become the norm for people living here. Mota suffers from respiratory problems and her teenage daughter suffers from asthma and skin lesions that blister when the smoke in the area becomes too dense. But one of the biggest concerns for the city’s approximately 160,000 residents is lead poisoning, which causes respiratory and skin problems, and is believed to have led to severe neurological damage in children.

Mota, along with five other residents of Los Desamparados, tested positive in 2019 for lead poisoning – which residents say is caused by Verde Eco Recycling Industrial (VERI), an automotive battery recycling plant – a claim that society vehemently denies. VERI states that it operates according to strict environmental standards and generates no contamination, smoke or lead poisoning.

For decades, Haina residents, including Mota, have led protests calling for the closure of these factories, but to little effect. “If I could wake up in the morning and see the sky, I would feel a lot better,” she says.

Factories contaminate every aspect of their lives, says Mota. “We are fed up. We want to see parks and cultural centers – things that bring positivity to the people of Haina. These factories only bring us misery.