Good News from Chevron: Toxic Waste Won't Make You Sick!

May 8, 2009

The thousands of communities living among Texaco’s decades-old toxic waste pits in the Amazon will be so relieved!  It turns out that despite decades of scientific research, long-term exposure to crude oil and drilling waste-waters causes no harm! In fact, you could use a little as facial moisturizer if you wanted.

Oh, I wish I was kidding. Even for a company like Chevron, so entrenched in its own lies and cover ups, this is a new low.

I have to be honest, it has taken me a few days to regain my bearings after watching  a Chevron executive explain to the American public on the CBS news program 60 Minutes that exposure to crude oil contamination and toxic wastewaters is no worse than the “naturally occurring” oils used in cosmetics.  Not that it was the first time I have heard Chevron try to make such erroneous claims, but this was truly absurd. If only it weren’t so tragic.

A couple of years ago I visited the Amazon villages that are the subject of the landmark case against Chevron – one oil-polluted village after another – meeting people who struggle everyday to find clean drinking water, and take care of ill family members whose health has been compromised by vast pollution of their lands.  In the Northern Oriente region of the country, communities have been rallying together across indigenous villages and campesino towns, to defend their way of life and seek justice.  These people deserve their day in court, and Chevron needs to stop obstructing the judicial process with blatantly dishonest propaganda.

Here are a few of the big lies Chevron told to 60 Minutes:

  1. The health impacts of oil used in cosmetics is equivalent to the health impacts of decades of exposure to the toxins left in the water and soil after Texaco dumped more than 19 billion gallons of toxic wastewaters and spilled 16.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Amazon forest.

  3. In the thousands of soil and water samples they have taken in the Amazon there has been no detection of any type of toxin that is not naturally occurring in the environment…and that is dangerous to human health or the environment (this directly contradicts laboratory reports Chevron submitted as evidence in the trial, available as public records).

  5. The judicial system in Ecuador cannot be trusted (the trial is currently taking place in Ecuador at Chevron’s request after the company asked that it be transferred out of U.S. federal court, where it was filed in 1993).

  7. The case is frivolous (a court appointed expert estimates the damages at $27 billion – making it the largest environmental lawsuit in history).

  9. Chevron can’t be sued because of a 1990s agreement Texaco struck with the Ecuadorian government to clean up some of the contaminated sites – sites that had been abandoned for years (the agreement with the Government did not cover claims of individual litigants).

Chevron has invested a lot of money and time to cover their tracks, and it appears that they will not back down anytime soon.  In the meantime, these Amazon communities are being slowly poisoned.  But what Chevron doesn’t seem to realize is that these communities have nothing left to lose, and they will never give up.  Just a few years ago few people in this country even knew about Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador.  I hope that with increased media attention here in the U.S., they will find even deeper reserves of courage to keep up this fight and demand justice.

Many of the court documents can be found at, and you can learn more about the history of oil in the Amazon and Amnesty’s work on this issue here.

Watch the 60 Minutes segment: