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Air pollution in La Oroya Air pollution in La Oroya
Children are most at risk in La Oroya

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6. La Oroya, Peru

Country: Peru
Location: La Oroya, Peru

Pollutants

Metals from the local smelting plant are the key pollutant here. The plant releases gases from processing toxins such as arsenic, lead, copper, zinc, manganese, and sulfur diozide.

Area Affected

There are currently 35,000 people in the town of La Oroya being affected by the factory.

About

The town of La Oroya has been subject to the toxic fumes of its smelting plant since 1922. The plant processes many types of metals, from lead to copper, cadmium, and zinc. Unfortunately, this very same plant is the main source of employment for most of the people of La Oroya, making it very difficult for the people to protest the constant pollution happening unchecked around them. In the face of protest, the company who owns the smelting plant, Missouri based Doe Run, would threaten to pull out and leave the whole town jobless.

Peru's Clean Air Act demands that polluted cities begin to clean up their industries, which face fines if they do not comply. However, in 2004 Doe Run asked for an extension from the government to lengthen the amount of time they were given to clean up their facility. In addition, they can bully the workers into replling the requests of the government to clean up the area, because they might lose their jobs if they don't side with the company. Peru's president, Alan Garcia, is also very pro-US and business minded, and doesn't want to upset and potentially lose foreign investors. Still, sue to outside organizations and brave people, the problem is beginning to be addressed.

People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected

As always, the effects on the people of La Oroya are significant. Lead poisoning is one of the leading problems in the area, and almost 99% of the local children have unsafe levels of lead in their blood. Even babies suffer this problem. A study done of 93 newborns found that even these babies, who were relatively unexposed to the environment, had toxic levels of lead in their blood which was inherited from the mother. Lead poisoning at such a young age can have a profound effect on children, leading to problems ranging from low IQ, stunted growth, impaired vision and hearing, learning disorders, and brain damage. Therefore, it is really no surprise that there are a fair amount of disabled children in La Oroya. For company employees Doe Run has a clean nursery for a select hundred children, but only a minority of those who need help actually get it.

As far as the surrounding environment goes local studies have shown that there is 85 times more arsenic, 41 times more cadmium, and 13 times more lead than is safe in the surrounding air. Lead levels in local waters contain 50 percent more lead than is deemed safe by the World Health Organization. The waters of the local Mantaro river are deemed unfit for consumption by humans or animals and cannot be used in irrigation. Arsenic is a known deadly poison which is a serious source of cancer as well. Cadmium is also a carcinogen which can cause severe complications in the lungs including infections and fluid build up.

Finally, the residents also suffer from pollution of sulfur dioxide. This compound acts as an acid, and creates a burning sensation in the eyes and throat. If a person is exposed long enough, lung complications can ensue.

Clean up Activities

The clean up activities in the area are complicated and blurred by international politics. Doe Run has provided a nursery for employee's children, as well as developing a long term to plan reduce pollution. Recently the company has also offered $400 million to update the facility in order to reduce emissions. The company claims that toxic metal levels have already gone down in the area, though independant and goverment agencies will continue to test for pollutants. Nonetheless, it is expected the company will face snactions for not reducing its sulfur diozide emmissions enough in the last year. Whether Doe Run will continue to improve in the future depends on the workers, the government, and independant environmental authorities focused on a cleaner future.

How You Can Help

Visit http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/ for more information on how you can help.

References

  • Blacksmith Institute's Most Polluted
  • http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/41
  • Poisoned city fights to save its children
  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/aug/12/environment.pollution
Submitted by cennywenny on Sep 2, 2008