What are the environmental exposures observed in this excerpt from Maquilapolis (City of Factories)?1st Transcript: First Woman: I’ve always...

What are the environmental exposures observed in this excerpt from Maquilapolis (City of Factories)?

1st Transcript:

First Woman: I’ve always lived in this neighborhood, Chilpancingo, and the river has always been here. When I was a kid it was clean. When I got a little older and started working in the factories, I saw that the water was changing colors. Now sometimes it’s black, green, red, or foamy. The water used to be crystalline, and I used to bathe here. What I loved was that families used to come to camp and swim. I look at the sad reality now, how the river has been destroyed. I wish my kids could have enjoyed this river as I did. 

Second Woman: The “Industrial City” is on the Mesa, and we’re down below. All their chemicals end up in our neighborhood. People have gotten sores on their legs and feet like she has, and we think they're from the water. For three days the water has had this color and smell. 

First Woman: When it’s like this, my nose blocks up and I struggle to breathe. I get sick over and over, my arms get. . . Sometimes I’m okay, but I always have spots. 

Second Woman: My daughter has spots too, hers are brown and always itchy. 

First Woman: My son too, he gets hives all over his body. And my niece, too. I don’t want my children to live with this problem. That’s what motivates me to find a solution.

2nd Transcript:

Female Speaker: Now I work the night shift, six days a week, at Panasonic. It’s $68 (US) per week. It’s nice because I’m learning to operate computers. I have no complaints, it’s a good job. The only problem is the lead contamination. You breathe lead every day. Panasonic and Sanyo never inform you of the risks from toxic chemicals in the factory. I’ve started to get spots and sores on my body, and these spots from contact with the paste we use. And my doctor says I’m at risk for leukemia. Also, you can’t wash your clothes with your children’s, or get close to your kids after you leave work, because it affects them, too.

[Sign reads “Ever Green Street”]

Today’s routine is like this: I left work at 7 AM. I came to my neighborhood. I picked up my kids at my ex-father-in-law’s house, and we came home to our house. I’m heating up yesterday's soup. Luis-once tuna salad, which is weird for breakfast, but there’s no accounting for taste. I heat the water for their baths. I get them ready for school. Their uniforms are drying over there. I take them to school and then cook for them. I pick them up at 4:00 p.m., spend some time with them. Then I get ready for work. Maybe I get to sleep for an hour or two. Or sometimes I don’t sleep, and I just go off to work.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Environmental exposure might mean one of two things: (1) to what is the environment itself exposed; (2) to what environmental contaminants are people exposed? These are related to each other, and either understanding is relevant to the story of Maquilapolis, (City of Factories).

Globalization brought industrialization to Chilpancingo, in northern Mexico, starting in the 1980s (canewsreel.org). The factories—under treaty with Mexico that allows for the duty-free import of component parts and duty-free export of finished products—are called maquiladoras (singular, maquilador); the workers and the system of duty-free foreign factories are also called maquiladoras (singular, maquiladora). The products made at maquiladoras included televisions, pantyhose, intravenous bags, batteries, cell phones, and electronic components (PBS, canewsreel.org). Environmental contamination was introduced to the area with the intrusion of the unregulated maquiladoras (factories)—established with the "government’s apparent collusion with the polluters" (canewsreel.org)—and was compounded when the factories exited (policyinnovations.org, Carnegie Council), leaving behind production related toxic waste (PBS).

In the transcript sections provided, 1st Transcript and 2nd Transcript, several indicators of environmental exposures can be observed from the speakers' accounts of their personal, daily experiences. The first woman brings up the subject of the water, and her comments are corroborated by the second woman. The water is said to be foamy and of several unnatural colors.

The observation of foam and unnatural coloration in the water indicates contaminants from leaked sewage and industrial waste, such as industrial detergents. Although not mentioned in the transcripts, PBS reports leaked sewage and a "toxic stew of chemicals and manufacturing agents" (PBS) running down from the industrial mesa, which, as the second woman says, is upriver from their neighborhood of Chilpancingo: "The 'Industrial City' is on the Mesa, and we’re down below. All their chemicals end up in our neighborhood." Changes in water color are related to many factors, including leaked sewage (which may increase red algae) and dumped industrial toxins as in "slag heaps of toxic material" (PBS).

The first woman also mentions respiratory problems and an inability to breathe. While these symptoms are linked to many environmental contaminants, they are indicative of lead contamination, which is absorbed through inhalation (irritating nasal passages and lungs) and ingestion, usually "accidental ingestion (eating, drinking, and smoking) via contaminated hands, clothing, and surfaces" (OSHA). This links directly to the speaker's remarks in the 2nd Transcript: "you can’t wash your clothes with your children’s, or get close to your kids after you leave work." Children acquire symptoms from contact with working parents because lead contamination is transferred through hands, clothing, and surfaces (as are dioxins, phthalates, and other VOCs, also a problem in the United States).

Liver damage and cancers, such as leukemia, are also directly related to lead contamination. Lead, such as in the lead-based paste mentioned in the 2nd Transcript, is used in the production of batteries, plastics (as in intravenous (IV) tubes), and electronics. Lead is also present in leaked sewage. Skin ailments are linked to industrial toxins, such as "chloronaphthalenes and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)" (Oxford Journal), detergents, metals, and resins (Institute of Occupational Safety, UK).