Historical News Releases & Statements

19 Sep 2007

Ecuador Plaintiffs' Have Provided No Evidence to Support Their Cancer Claims

Assertions of higher cancer rates in the Oriente are false; Experts refute studies promoted by Plaintiffs lawyers and Amazon Defense Front

QUITO, ECUADOR, September 19, 2007 - The consensus view of leading epidemiologists and tropical health experts is that there is no evidence to support the claim that the Oriente region is experiencing higher rates of cancer, or that cancer in the region is the result of exposure to oil field sites. These independent experts have concluded that the health studies promoted by the plaintiffs' attorneys and activist groups in the ongoing environmental trial against Chevron are flawed, biased and inconclusive.

In a summary of reports and analysis made public today, Chevron pointed to the preponderance of scientific data that shows there is no increase risk of dying of cancer in the Oriente, but there is an increased risk of dying from infectious disease. The major health concerns in the Oriente region are not the result of oil operations, but are related to lack of water treatment infrastructure, the lack of sufficient sanitation infrastructure and inadequate access to medical care.

"There is no question that the people of the Oriente face a series of challenges regarding their personal and community health," said Silvia Garrigo, a Chevron attorney. "However, these people are being deceived in the worst possible way by the lawyers and activists who have brought this lawsuit. First, there is simply no truth or causal link of cancer and other diseases in the Oriente region related to exposure to oil. The Plaintiffs' lawyers and their supporters have failed to present the Court with any medical records to support their claims, and all of their studies have been discredited by world renowned experts." Second, by claiming local health issues are the result of exposure to oil when clearly it is not true, the Plaintiffs' lawyers are misleading the local people and their government away from the real causes of their health problems and away from taking the very important steps to improve overall community health."

Most recently, two highly-regarded independent epidemiologists, Alejandro Arana of Risk Management Resources España, Zaragoza, Spain and Felix Arellano of St. Vincent's Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, in an analysis published in the July issue of the journal, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concluded that cancer rates in San Carlos are actually much lower than the plaintiffs allege. The epidemiologists examined the studies authored by Dr. Miguel San Sebastian, and promoted by the plaintiffs, in which it is alleged that the town of San Carlos in the Oriente is experiencing high levels of cancer.

Drs. Arellano and Arana concluded, based on INEC (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Censos) data, that Dr. San Sebastian underestimated the actual population of the town, making his estimated cancer rates appear to be about twice as high as they actually were and above the anticipated level, when in fact they are not. This in turn, substantially overestimated cancer rates in the region. As a result, San Sebastian's writings do not provide evidence that the incidence of cancer was greater than would be expected in a similar population.

Drs. Arellano and Arana are two of a number of independent epidemiologists and experts on tropical health issues who have effectively refuted the claims of San Sebastian and the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Chevron also pointed to other evidence that effectively refuted the health claims made by the plaintiffs and activist groups:

  • Existing data from Ecuador's Instituto Nacional de Estatistica y Censos (INEC) shows that cancer death rates in the Amazon region are actually lower than in other regions of Ecuador. Using data from INEC, Dr. Michael Kelsh, an epidemiologist and adjunct professor at UCLA, found that of the 20 types of cancer evaluated, there is a much lower risk of dying from any type of cancer in the Oriente than in Pichincha.
  • During the course of the trial, the plaintiffs' attorneys have not presented any medical records to support their claims.
  • Recently cancer claims by Ecuadorians were thrown out of a U.S. Court because the claimants admitted to fabricating those claims. The lawsuit was brought before the U.S. court by Cristobal Bonifaz, who was the originator of the lawsuit now before the Superior Court in Lago Agrio.

Plaintiffs' Attorneys and Activists Ignore the Real Problems in the Oriente

Scientific evidence introduced in the trial shows that high levels of harmful bacteria (from human or animal waste, not petroleum) have been found in 90 percent of the drinking water samples collected during judicial inspections in the region. Similar results have been found in reports of >200 water samples submitted to the Direccion Nacional de Proteccion (DINAPA). In addition, an inadequate sanitation infrastructure compounds the problem. In the Oriente, access to running water, toilets, and sewer treatment is much lower than national averages. The World Health Organization has voiced its concern that the presence of these bacteria has been shown to cause the sort of gastrointestinal and skin problems that have been documented in the Oriente region.

In Sucumbíos province in the northern Oriente, 84.2% of the population lives below the poverty line. These conditions have little to nothing to do with oil industry according to recent study, 'Ecuador: Un Análisis de los Indicadores Report.' Published by Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales-Ecuador (FLACSO). This research found that oil production is not the primary cause of poor living conditions among populations in the Amazon.

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