The day the Mexican government fed radioactive milk to children

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Mexicans never expected their loved ones to suffer harm caused by events happening thousands of miles from their homes.

The Chernobyl disaster was proof that humankind can match or surpass nature in causing disasters and destroying thousands of lives. The event completely ruined this part of the world and still causes death and suffering among the people who refuse to leave.

Hundreds of works have been produced to speak of its lasting damage, while thousands of testimonies seek justice for the deaths, knowing it will never come. However, there is another perspective on this tragedy that is not being talked about, and it has to do directly with Mexico and its relationship with Ireland – a nation hit by the radiation from the accident.

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You might like to read this: Mexico’s Chernobyl, the largest nuclear accident in the Americas

In 1986, the Latin American country’s government bought milk from its European counterpart as part of their economic agreement. The problem was that this product was contaminated by the radiation cloud created by Chernobyl and thousands of children were consuming it daily, causing cancer and later death.

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The disgrace began just four months after the Chernobyl accident. The scandal had reached the rest of the world and Moscow was doing what it could (inefficiently) to save the people from the tragedy they were facing. To avoid further uproar, the impact of the disaster on the atmosphere and radioactive plume around Asia and Europe was never reported.

Toxic gases traveled west on the winds, leaving western European nations like the Republic of Ireland at risk of exposure to radiation, which caused contamination of food, animals and humans. Irish authorities soon noticed that the milk they were producing contained high levels of radioactive emissions and decided to sell it, despite the risk it would pose to thousands of people.

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The Irish government then attempted to sell dozens of tonnes of contaminated milk to third world countries, revealing their audacity and disinterest in making a profit. In July 1986, the Mexican ambassador to Brazil, Antonio González Quintanilla, warned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) about the European country’s intentions to trade in radioactive milk. He suggested that after unsuccessful offers to South American countries, the Irish would try to negotiate with Mexico, a country economically linked by strong trade ties. Soon after, Alfonso de Rozental, then Secretary of State of the SRE, informed the Minister of Health of his intentions, indicating that doing so would endanger the health of Mexicans. However, corruption and disinterest on the part of the Mexican government came into play.

The Irish Dairy Council and Compañía Nacional de Subsistencias Populares (CONASUPO, the main company responsible for distributing subsidized milk in Mexico) have reached an agreement to import 40,000 tonnes of milk, aware that it is contaminating and dangerous for them are consumers, mainly low-income people.

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Ironically, the European country’s Food Minister, Joe Walsh, publicly stated that the product was below permissible radiation levels. He accepted that it was dangerous, although he assured people that not consuming it was not risky enough.

Two people, Manuel Rodriguez Gordillo and Miguel Angel Vladovinos – Vice Admiral and Physicist respectively – learned of the product’s arrival in Mexico at the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in Veracruz, where they registered high levels of radiation. After analyzing the product, they came to the revealing conclusion and tried to warn those responsible for buying and selling; they were ignored. Both sought to expose the government’s corruption and indifference to the product that would leave millions exposed and persecuted for the rest of their lives. CONASUPO decided to share the product and it was distributed under some of the big brands that are currently being sold, such as Nestlé, Kraft Food and Yakult, among others.

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According to the then head of the oncology department of the National Institute of Pediatrics, Rocio Cardenas, between 1988 and 1997 the number of children suffering from cancer increased significantly. The weekly news magazine Proceso tried to investigate the case further; however, every step was stopped by bureaucratic tricks and dead ends. They tried to analyze the figures from the “Federico Gómez” Children’s Hospital to discover a possible link between the increase in the incidence of the disease in infants as a result of the milk that came to Mexico during this period. Likewise, they questioned various diplomats, civil servants and government leaders without receiving clear answers and only received evasive statements. Her silence proves her guilt and her fear of bearing responsibility for the illness and deaths of an unknown number of children (and possibly adults).

Radioactive milk is believed to have caused many of the child birth defects, deaths and sudden illnesses recorded since 1987. The population was hardly informed. Mexicans never expected their loved ones to suffer harm caused by events happening thousands of miles from their homes.

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Chernobyl did not stay in this place. It left its mark on the world and showed that humanity is still despicable. From those who dealt negligently with the disaster, to the politicians under President Miguel de la Madrid’s government, who alone are responsible for the countless deaths and tragedies that hundreds – or perhaps thousands – have suffered simply because they Goods bought by the government were even close to a nuclear power plant.

Perhaps the greatest misfortune is that the world can never get better.

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