Border fence separating San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico 2016 (Donna Burton/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

CBP Asks Industry’s Help Protecting Agents from Toxic Wastewater from Tijuana

Known and unknown contaminants pose operational and health risks to Border Patrol agents operating in the Tijuana River Valley, according to the Customs and Border Protection bureau’s Feb. 26 call for industry’s clean-up help.

The bureau seeks a wide range of solutions, possibly including automated equipment that eliminates the need for agents to patrol the hazardous areas, engineering fixes to neutralize hazardous material in the wastewater and prevent it from pooling, or technology to alert agents to the presence of risks so they can limit their exposure.

CBP is encouraging small businesses to respond so it can determine whether a resulting solicitation should be set aside for small companies. Responses are due March 26 and an industry day will be held in April.

CBP agents regularly must inspect culverts in the canyons under the Mexican border fence for illegal immigrants and smugglers. “The culverts should be dry, except when carrying stormwater runoff, but failing wastewater infrastructure in Mexico frequently results in dry-weather flows,” said the agency’s request for information.

Mexico’s crumbling sewage infrastructure plus illegal waste dumping are implicated in a rising number of rashes, headaches, infections and other problems among agents working in the area, according to the National Border Patrol Council, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported March 6.

Chris Harris, a union representative, told the newspaper that 83 agents working at CBP’s Imperial, Calif., station had reported health problems. The station oversees an area of “sandy beaches, rugged draws and canyons, mesas, marshlands, agricultural fields, horse ranches, residential and commercial areas,” according to CBP. “The Tijuana River meanders out of Mexico through the United States and into the Pacific Ocean, creating a river basin that runs the length of the border.”

A group of local governments, including Imperial Beach and the San Diego Unified Port District, announced on March 2 a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to stop the repeated discharges of polluted water into the valley, the U-T reported.

CBP is working with federal agencies and Mexico to solve the problem, according to a CBP statement to the U-T. “CBP continues to work closely with its inter-agency partners at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of State (DoS), the Department of Treasury, and the United States International Boundary and Water Commission to develop a whole-of-government approach to resolving this large-scale infrastructure issue, to include robust engagement with the Government of Mexico.”

CBP action was “spurred by the continued risks the trans-boundary wastewater and hazardous flows pose to its mission as a whole, which includes not only the health and life safety risks to its U.S. Border Patrol Agents, but also its mission support personnel and individuals it apprehends in performance of its mission,” the statement said.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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