By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star
State officials want to force a federal agency to stop dumping sewage loaded with heavy metals into the Santa Cruz River.
In a lawsuit recently moved to federal court in Tucson, the Department of Environmental Quality charges the treatment plant operated by the International Boundary and Water Commission near Rio Rico is discharging treated water with illegally high levels of cadmium. The lawsuit also says there have been excessive discharges of other chemicals, including cyanide and ammonia nitrogen compounds.
Attorneys for the DEQ are seeking a court order requiring the commission to stop the discharges.
DEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer said the problem appears to originate in Nogales, Sonora, where manufacturing operations use certain heavy metals.
Raw sewage and untreated industrial waste from Mexico often drains northward into Arizona. A system of pipes carries that overflow, coupled with sewage from Nogales, Ariz., to the treatment plant.
According to the state, the only known industrial users are all on the Mexican side of the border. And the lawsuit states that the boundary commission, as operator of the plant, is supposed to ensure the discharges are pretreated to keep the chemicals from getting into the system in the first place.
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