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Rio Sonora valley residents to receive medical attention, environmental remediation

This August will mark eight years since a spill at a copper mine in Sonora sent millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Rio Sonora. But residents say they are just beginning to see progress in addressing the damage.

The 2014 spill at Grupo Mexico’s Buenavista copper mine took an immediate and lasting toll on the environment and the health of area residents.

Recent government testing has shown elevated levels of heavy metals in wells and soil in the region, as well as in blood and urine samples from people living in the eight towns downstream.

Specialized medical attention is set to begin later this month for residents with high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals.

"In 2022 we are just beginning to see the results of this long fight," said Ramon Miranda, a member of the Rio Sonora Watershed Committees, which have been demanding remediation since 2014.

He says their fight is finally bearing fruit. In addition to doctors visits, a restoration plan is taking shape.

But he says there is still a long way to go to repair the human and environmental costs of the spill and the inadequate response to it.

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.