In a small Guatemalan town one hundred miles north of Guatemala City, a mass grave lies just outside of the city square. A mass grave full of people. Dead people.
The town is called La Estancia de Garcia, and it’s population is now 7, down from 149 earlier this year.
It all started with good will visit and donation from Nalgene, the New York based water bottle manufacturer. To show that they were a well-rounded charitable company, they chose the quaint Estancia de Garcia as the model town to send Jonathan Kieliszak, Director of Public Relations, down for a photo shoot and the donation of two hundred one-liter Nalgene branded bottles for charity.
The problem is that these bottles were made of Lexan, a potentially dangerous polymeric material that could have dangerous side effects because it contains the compound known as bisphenol-A. We posted on these potential threats ad nauseum last year.
As a result of the controversy, Nalgene has modified the chemical composition of their trademark water bottles to include a slightly modified compound called polymethyl methacrylate which is completely harmless to humans. But the water bottles they sent to Guatemala contained the old, hazardous compound.
Shortly after Mr. Kieliszak left town, Guatemalans started getting ill. At first they thought it was the flu until children started vomiting a thick black mucus and getting high fevers. Their family members next became violently ill, then most of the entire village. Soon, 142 of the 149 villagers were dead. The other seven happened to be on a hunting expedition that week and not consuming liquids out of the bottles.
Now, J. Kieliszak and the polymer lobby are working hard in Washington DC trying to cover up the affair. They claim that the village became ill due to “natural causes” and that Nalgene did nothing wrong. And they’ve quietly returned to Estancia de Garcia to collect used water bottles and bring them back to the states for “testing”.
Who knows what the effects of concentrated amounts of bisphenol-A did to the Guatemalan villagers? Will we ever find out what the real cause of their deaths was? Nalgene has been tight lipped on the topic, and as the lobbyists work hard in Washington, the story slowly fades into the limelight. But for these Guatemalans, my Nalgene water bottle has now been retired.