By Alicia Ely Yamin and María Natalia Echegoyemberry
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in Argentina’s Villa Inflamable (literally “Inflammable Slum”) is the noxious sulfur smell of the air that mixes with other acrid chemicals, which makes it difficult to breathe deeply. When a breeze picks up, the sands that have been used to extract contaminated water from the nearby Riachuelo, one of the ten most highly contaminated rivers in the world, rain down on everyone, filling eyes and lungs with toxic particulate matter.
As petrochemical tanker trucks parade through nearby paved streets, the unpaved lanes of Villa Inflamable alternate between toxic dust blowing through the air on dry days to flooding raw sewage on rainy ones. Everyone knows someone who died of cancer, or had pregnancy complications and children with birth defects. More than 600 children have been born and are growing up exposed to highly carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene and toluene.