Chevron's Ecuador Cancer Problem: 10,000 People at Risk of Contracting Disease in Coming Decades, Says Expert
Oil Giant Faces Up to $69 Billion in Liability for Potential Cancer Deaths
- October 14, 2010
- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Quito, Ecuador – Almost 10,000 people in Ecuador face a significant risk of contracting cancer in the coming decades due to Chevron's refusal to clean up the billions of gallons of oil waste it dumped into the rain forest, a leading American expert has reported to the Ecuador court where Chevron is a defendant in a multi-billion dollar environmental trial.
The cancer assessment was presented on September 16 to the Superior Court of Nueva Loja in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, where Chevron is charged with dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic "water of formation" directly into the rainforest. The company also faces a potential $69 billion liability for the cancer deaths, an amount that accounts for slightly less than half of the top end of the plaintiff's assessment of total damages, estimated at $113 billion.
Dr. Daniel Rourke, a prominent American statistician formerly associated with the RAND Corporation, has concluded that 9,950 people living in the rainforest region in Ecuador where Chevron operated face a significant risk of contracting cancer in the coming decades. The number could spike higher as Dr. Rourke's analysis assumes a clean-up of the contaminated area will begin immediately and be completed in ten years – something that Chevron has thus far rejected out of hand.
"This study demonstrates that Chevron has created a critical human health catastrophe in Ecuador that puts thousands of people at risk of death," said Luis Yanza, who coordinates the legal case against Chevron for approximately 80 rainforest indigenous and farmer communities impacted by the oil giant's operations.
"As it is, hardly a day goes by where we don't receive a report of another cancer death in the area where Chevron operated," he said.
Chevron, which operated several oil fields in the Amazon from 1964 to 1990, is being sued by 30,000 rain forest residents for clean-up costs. The trial is taking place in Ecuador at Chevron's request after it was moved from U.S. federal court in 2002.
Several experts believe the damage caused by Chevron in Ecuador dwarfs the harm generated by the BP Gulf spill, and is probably the world's largest oil-related disaster. The contamination covers an area the size of Rhode Island and will take at least a decade to remediate once funds are in place, according to experts.
The human health problem in the area where Chevron operated is exacerbated by the fact the local population lives in close proximity to the hundreds of oil wells and waste pits that Chevron left behind when it departed Ecuador in 1992. Chevron never warned local residents of the dangers of exposure to the contamination and never fenced off any of its 916 toxic waste pits, which are considered hazardous.
Dr. Rourke's report uses actuarial life-table methodology to estimate the number of lives at risk of cancer as a result of exposure to the oil contamination.
The report utilizes Ecuadorian census data to estimate the population of the region, adjusted for growth rate since the oil operations began in 1964. The value of each excess cancer death was estimated at $7 million, a figure based on an average from the U.S. tort system and an economic concept of the "value of a statistical life" as employed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Several peer-reviewed health evaluations had previously found that cancer rates in the region where Chevron operated were dramatically higher than in the rest of Ecuador. These reports can be found here.
When Chevron published a full-page ad in Ecuadorian newspapers attacking the health studies, more than 50 eminent scientists signed a letter published in the prestigious International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health defending the methods used to conduct the health evaluations and criticizing Chevron's efforts to undermine the studies' findings.
Chevron's own damages report, also submitted to the court on Sept. 16, found that the company had no liability and that the oil contamination from its former oil fields poses no harm to human health.
Chevron has been hit hard in the Ecuador trial in recent days.
The company's primary American technical expert in Ecuador, John Conner, suffered a major blow to his credibility when it was reported that he testified in Mississippi that the oil giant had never harmed even a single person in his two decades working as a consultant for the company. Conner also admitted that Chevron had paid his company $8 million in consulting fees, with up to $5 million coming from his work on the Ecuador matter.
After hearing Conner's testimony in Mississippi, a jury delivered a $19 million judgment against Chevron on behalf of five plaintiffs who suffered cognitive injuries from exposure to the company's leaking underground gas tanks.
True to form, in the dozens of expert reports Chevron submitted to the Ecuador court under Conner's supervision, not one has concluded that Chevron's operational practices in the South American nation had harmed even a single person.