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February 2007 Vol. 33, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Worst Job in the Diving World

from the February, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The next time you fume about your job, your boss or your desk in cubicle land, remember it could be worse—you could be a diver for a filtration treatment plant in a Third World country.

Divers at a sewer treatment plant in Mexico City get paid just $400 a month to take the fetid plunge into the “pond”, down to 30 meters deep.

Mexico City’s nine million people produces a staggering 9,250 gallons of waste water every second. The divers’ mission is to keep the flow on the go, pulling out whatever gets stuck in the grates, which has included human corpses, dead animals, entire cars, and plenty of abandoned armchairs. In 1991, one former diver, struggling to unclog a grate finally managed to pull out a car tire, only to get sucked into the sewer system by water pressure and died.

It is so dark down there that the divers have to feel their way along the tunnel walls. “You cannot see a thing, you really only have your hands to see with,” 43-year-old diver Luis Covarrubias told Agence France Press. “When you start, you are just asking for everything to come out OK.”

The equipment is low-tech—the crew works in plastic suits and wears gloves they hitch onto the suit with tape. Top that with more than 20 pounds of headgear, and a set of rustic tubes for breathing and talking to the surface. At the end of every shift, divers scrub their wetsuits with detergent to remove the stink of urine and rotten waste. The disinfection process: A few buckets of tap water tossed over their heads.

Constant breathing of the fumes and contact with the sludge can be toxic, but some of the crew are convinced they have earned some immunity. “This is just a job like any other,” said Covarrubias. “It just has some risks that we know how to handle.

Many divers are former swimming champs and dive instructors. Julio Cesar Cu, one of 10 brothers from a poor family, was an instructor who didn’t have enough money to study oceanography, so he took the sewer-diving job and has been immersed in the brown stuff ever since. But, as he told Reuters, he doesn’t mind it. “I like diving as a sport. As a job I like it even more. I do a job that benefits a lot of people.”

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