STEER | South Texas Environmental Education and Research



Untreated drinking water threatens the health of the 225,000 people who live in colonias in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Colonias are underdeveloped, unincorporated subdivisions where about 90 percent of homes have no sewers or running water. Such services are unlikely for years so intermediate steps are being taken.

Under the name Agua Para Beber, Spanish for "water to drink," our center and a binational alliance of health agencies helped teach colonia residents how to treat their own water. Volunteer residents known as "promotoras," or health promoters, who live in the colonias, received training in water purification and hygiene education and helped educate other residents about how to chlorinate their drinking water and take other precautions against gastrointestinal illness.

The initial phase of the project, approved in October 1997, involved 500 families in the two Laredo cities. Each family received eyedroppers to chlorinate water, and a five-gallon receptacle to store the water they treated.

The program was inspired by one in El Paso, Texas, and its sister city, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The Center for Environmental Resource Management at The University of Texas at El Paso, which created the program in 1994, provided guidance in Laredo. The Environmental Protection Agency funded the project.

Partners in the program included the Texas Department of Health’s Office of Border Health, Primary Health Care Services for Webb County Colonias, and the Department of Health and assistance of Nuevo Laredo, the Laredo Health Department and Texas A&M Community Centers for Families.


Pesticide exposures are of particular concern along the U.S.-Mexico border because of the extensive year-round use of agricultural pesticides, coupled with poor housing often located near fields. In addition, parents who work in the fields may carry residues home on their clothing. A variety of factors may exacerbate these effects, including poverty, calorie-dense nutrition-poor diets and poor sanitation. We elected to study the blood of twenty-five Hispanic women in their third trimester of pregnancy, along with the homes in which they live.

Participants answered questions concerning their health, history of pesticide use and demographics. Because of their close interactions, questions were also asked regarding other people within the same household. A dust sample was collected from each woman’s home and analyzed for approximately forty-five pesticides. In addition, an air sample was collected in each home over a two week period.

We found that most pest control was performed either by the woman herself or by someone living with her. Aerosol sprays were the most common method, followed by bait traps, and sticky traps. By far, most methods were used for cockroach control, followed by rodent and ant control. None of the women had an abnormally high level of any heavy metal, and there was no correlation between pesticide exposure and antioxidant status. Antioxidant levels for the women appeared to vary randomly between first and second visits, with no discernible pattern.