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Industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico

Industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico

Tecma Talks with Mexican attorney, Glenn McBride, about industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico, as well as other health, safety and environmental compliance issues.

Tecma, Group of Companies:

Hello and welcome to another installation of Tecma Talk podcasts during which we speak with individuals that are experts in certain topics from inside and outside of the Tecma Group of Companies.

Today we are speaking to an outside expert. He is a veritable library of all things having to do with Mexican law. His name is Glenn McBride. Glenn, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Glenn McBride:

Yes. I am originally from the US, but I’ve lived in Mexico for thirty years, and I am a licensed Mexican attorney with dual nationality (US and Mexican). Some of you may be familiar with me from my website, www.mexicanlaws.com. I sell translations of Mexican laws into English in pretty much all areas now. I also provide health and safety, and environmental audits all over Mexico.

Tecma Group of Companies:

That’s one of the things that we are going to talk about. You had mentioned that, in particular, one of the areas that you have actually conducted has to do with industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico. Glenn can you tell us the basics? If I am a site selector, or if I am somebody doing research for a company that wants to go to Mexico that is a significant water user, what do I have to think about in terms of industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico?

Glenn McBride:

First you need to consider the question of where your water comes from. If you are drawing water from a well, you are under federal jurisdiction. If you are drawing water from a municipal water system, you’re under state jurisdiction. You have to handle the issue of wastewater with that in mind, because there are slightly different regulations whether it is state or federal jurisdiction. First of all, you have to have a permit. If you are under federal jurisdiction, and you are discharging wastewater into into the ground, or into a septic system, the standard that applies to you is NOM 001 SEMARNAT 1996. This establishes the maximum permissible level of contaminants that is allow in those discharges of wastewater. “You have to do annual testing of the wastewater that you are discharging to make sure that it does not exceed the maximum permissible level of contaminants. Those are different depending upon whether you are discharging the wastewater into a municipal sewer system, or into the ground, or a river, or something that is under federal jurisdiction. If you are discharging the wastewater into a municipal sewer system its NOM 002 SEMART 1996. That is where you will find information on the maximum permissible contaminant allowed in industrial wastewater in Mexico. You have to have an accredited and authorized Mexican testing laboratory perform that annual testing on the wastewater that you are discharging. If you are above those limits, then you have to have a wastewater treatment facility.

Discharges of industrial wastewater in Mexico have to meet those defined standards. Annual reporting is required related to those discharges and that testing. If you are audited by SEMARNAT, one of the first things that they are going to ask for the records of your annual test results in order to make sure that the discharges of industrial wastewater in Mexico are within the limits of the applicable legislation,
depending upon whether you are affected by federal or state jurisdiction.

Tecma Group of Companies:

One thing that I would like to point out to make it clear, and you can expand on this statement, is that there are two acronyms that you mentioned that are common to Mexico. One is NOMs (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas). These are the the rules as to what needs to be done in various regulatory areas. These are Mexican “norms,” for the lack of a better translation. The second acronym that you mentioned was SEMARNAT.  Essentially, this is the organization that is the Mexican equivalent of the EPA. Would that be correct?

Glenn McBride:

Yes, SEMARNAT stands for the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources. It is the executive branch, cabinet level department that is in charge of environmental issues and compliance in Mexico.

Tecma Group of Companies:

My understanding is that part of the services that you offer your clients is to help them to prepare for governmental audits in terms of  their compliance with industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico. Is that correct?

Glenn McBride:

Yes.

Tecma Group of Companies:

How does a company prepare for an audit such as this?

Glenn McBride:

Normally, industrial wastewater treatment regulations in Mexico is going to be one of the elements in an environmental audit. Although, at one point, you may have an environmental audit that is only focused on water, or it could be focused only on air, on soil or on hazardous waste. Again, normally, industrial wastewater in Mexico is going to be only one part of an overall environmental audit.

Tecma Group of Companies:

Specifically, with respect to water, how does the government official who is from the Mexican equivalent of the EPA (SEMARNAT) ascertain as to whether or not your company, and the processes that you are using, are in compliance with wastewater regulations as they apply to Mexico?

Glenn McBride:

An environmental audit focused solely on industrial wastewater in Mexico is always going to contain certain elements. Documentation would be one of them. Documentation includes the records that you are obligated to keep on wastewater discharges and water use, as well as authorizations and permits. The permit that you will have to have depends on whether you fall under federal or state jurisdiction, but almost all of the permits and authorizations have to be renewed every year. They require reporting. Any audit is going to be focused on your authorizations and permits, the documentation for wastewater testing that you have done and then there is going to be a physical, visual, inspection of the site. It is going to include, basically, those elements. Each one of them is very important. If you are not complaint in one of those areas, the fines can be extremely high.

Tecma Group of Companies:

Is an audit such as this, whether it is focusing on industrial wastewater in Mexico or some other aspect of environmental law in Mexico, do you receive notification that government officials will arrive at your plant a certain time before receiving a visit? How does the process work?

Glenn McBride:

The process for SEMARNAT is different from that of all other Mexican government agencies. For any other type of government audit, whether it be health and safety, or Customs, or any other type of audit, you are going to receive a notice that you will be inspected, and that notice is going to give you at least twenty-four hours to prepare. It is also going to tell you exactly what the audit is focused on. SEMARNAT is the only government agency that does not have to do that, and they will usually just appear and tell you that they are auditing you. You have to allow them access to whatever that they want access to. You can designate your own witnesses. You can designate the persons that you want to assist them in the audit, but you can’t prevent that audit from taking
place. It will happen very suddenly. They arrive without warning.

Tecma Group of Companies:

Would it be correct to say that in some quarters, outside of Mexico, for instance, in the US and maybe in Europe there is a misconception as to the stringency of Mexican environmental laws? There is some belief out there that, in some way, shape or form, Mexican environmental laws are less in developed countries. What’s your take on that?

Glenn McBride:

It is completely the opposite. Mexican environmental standards are are much stricter and are enforced much more that, for example, California, which is on of the US states that has the strictest compliance requirements. You will find that it is just the opposite in Mexico. When SEMARNAT inspects you, you won’t be given thirty or sixty days become compliant, if violations are found. You will be fined, immediately, for everything that they find.

Tecma Group of Companies:

So its a zero tolerance situation?

Glenn McBride:

The rules have been tightened tremendously, since 2012, since Enrique Peña Nieto became president. I’m not making a political statement, but the PRI party has always seen environmental compliance as a source of income. Where other administrations took a much more business friendly approach, the PRI sees this as a source of income. All of the fines for environmental infractions have been
increased tremendously since 2012.

Tecma Group of Companies:

I would assume that this applies to fines related to industrial wastewater treatment in Mexico, but to all the environmental regulations?

Glenn McBride:

This applies to all environment and health and safety rules. On the thirteenth of February, a new health and safety regulation took effect in Mexico, which increased all the fines two to three hundred percent for any health and safety violation. This is an area that is really affecting companies right now.

Tecma Group of Companies:

It is obvious that there is a certain complexity involved with looking at Mexican health and safety regulations. It would be advisable for someone looking to go to manufacture in Mexico that has whatever manufacturing process or processes in place to get somebody involved who really knows the ins and outs of this important area, so as to avoid fines and other problems. Would you recommend that companies seek this expertise prior to taking the leap into Mexico?

Glenn McBride:

Absolutely. It is also very important to have Mexican health and safety, and environmental compliance personnel in your facility that is adequately trained, and has experience with Mexican environmental law compliance. This is because its not a case of implementing you program and being fined. There are a number of daily, monthly and annual reports that have to be done. You really have to have adequate personnel in place to handle this.

Tecma Group of Companies:

You have talked about daily, yearly and monthly reports that have to be done, as well as inspection and related documentation. Is there a fine that is associated with any lapses in reporting on those documents? Is there a statute of limitations, or no statute of limitations? How does that work?

Glenn McBride:

Things have changed in that area. There’s no statute of limitations. In fact, one of the things that has changed with respect to environmental regulations, in the last six or seven years, since the law for the prevention and management of waste has taken effect, is that if you lease a property, purchase a property or acquire a property you immediately become responsible for any prior contamination to that property. If officials inspect the property and find contamination that happened twenty years ago, you are the one that is responsible for cleaning it up. So, it becomes very important for a company to do due diligence on any industrial property being considered for acquisition.

Tecma Group of Companies:

Glenn, it’s obvious that you have a pretty unique skill set. You’re an American. You live in Baja California and you speak Spanish, and hold a Mexican law degree. You have the ability to explain things in a very understandable way to English speakers. These things are very important. Since we have only just scratched the surface of the topic of environmental regulations in general, and we got a little bit into depth on the subject of industrial wastewater treatments in Mexico and the regulations surrounding it. People listen to these podcasts frequently call those with whom we have conversations with further questions in order to get a little deeper into the subject matter. Is there anyway that anyone who might want to do that in this case could contact you?

Glenn McBride:

Yes. Those that wish to contact me might want to touch base with my website, www.mexicanlaws.com. There is contact information there, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc. There is also a lot of information there that is helpful to review before making a call. The best place to start would be the Mexican Laws website.

The Tecma Group of Companies:

Thank you for joining us on this Tecma Talk podcast to have a brief conversation with me today. You mentioned that you are just getting over the flu. I hope that you do so expeditiously. Have a great day, Glenn.

Glenn McBride:

Yes, I do too. Have a good day.

Remember, relevant and useful Mexico manufacturing content is available at one’s finger tips by downloading the Tecma Group mobile app from the Google Play Store, interested parties can also receive Mexico manufacturing information on a weekly basis by SMS Texting the word Tecma to 96000.

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