DONNA — When Emma Quintero moved into her modest, bright blue house eight years ago, she'd watch neighbors pass by on their way to fish the murky waters of two sprawling reservoirs and irrigation canals that reach into the Rio Grande Valley like tentacles, delivering water to fields of citrus and vegetables.
She and her husband ate fish from the lakes themselves at a local restaurant. It wasn’t until about a year after the Quinteros moved in that an official with the state health department knocked on their door and handed her a flyer with a dire warning: Fish from the Donna Reservoir and Canal System are contaminated with dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals and aren't safe to eat.
“I couldn’t sleep that night,” Quintero, 55, said in Spanish recently while sitting at her kitchen table. “It scared me, and since then I want nothing to do with fish.”
For 23 years, federal environmental regulators and state health officials have known the fish in the Donna Reservoir and Canal System pose major health risks to those who consume them. The lakes have been granted Superfund status — a designation given to the country’s most hazardous sites — as officials try to figure out how to clean them up.