Peru: Contamination in Mining Town La Oroya

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently declared the petition admissible against the Peruvian State for committing human rights abuses against the residents of the mining city of La Oroya, located in Central Peru. The suit alleges that the government allowed environmental contamination caused by the emission of gases and other derivatives from activities from mining companies located in the area. The action by the IACHR takes the issue one step further towards presenting a formal case in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights located in San José, Costa Rica.

Many Peruvians wonder why this news was not published in many of the major national newspapers, and note that the previous presidential announcement about the “realistic solution” between the government and the miners, primarily from Doe Run, had more coverage. There are others who wonder whether the Peruvian press vetoes certain topics. However, there is always the internet to find alternative information with commentary and analysis about the implications of the IACHR's decision.

The news of this ruling has made it onto websites of Peruvian organizations concerned with environmental policy and human rights, such as the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA for its initials in Spanish), which published the news of the admitted petition on its website. As early as 2007, the IACHR had asked the Peruvian government to take precautionary measures to protect the residents of La Oroya from contamination [es], as noted by the “Runamasinchipaq” Human Rights Association (Adehr for its initials in Spanish).

Mining town near La Oroya taken by Matthew Burpee and used under a Creative Commons license.

Mining town near La Oroya taken by Matthew Burpee and used under a Creative Commons license.

This topic has been ongoing and has been written about in blogs for the past several years. Godofredo Arauzo of the blog Perú y Medio Ambiente [es] (Peru and the Environment) commented in 2007 about the petition to take precautionary measures in the region: “Our country's environment is more neglected and abandoned than a child orphaned from a father, mother and family.” Another past post comes Miguel Angel Valladares of the blog Mkv [es], who states that the air in La Oroyo is full of lead.

In the blog Derecho Ambiental [es] (Environmental Law), Iván Lanegra also comments about the precautionary measures:

Sin duda, este hecho, sumado a la sanción impuesta por OSINERGMIN hace algunas semanas y la posición firme que las autoridades locales y regionales vienen mostrando, generan un escenario diferente al que se ha vivido durante muchos años respecto de este caso, por lo que se abren posibilidades reales de alcanzar soluciones efectivas al problema de la contaminación ambiental de La Oroya. Esto es especialmente significativo cuando nos encontramos cerca de celebrar el décimo aniversario de la presencia de DOE RUN PERU en la operación del Complejo Metalúrgico de La Oroya.

Without a doubt, this action, in addition to the sanction placed by OSINERGMIN (Organizational Supervisor for Investments in Energy and Mining) a few weeks ago, and the firm position of the local and regional authorities, shows a different scene from what has been seen over many years about this case, because it opens up real possibilities to reach effective solutions to the problem of environmental contamination in La Oroya. This is especially significant when we are close to celebrating the 10th anniversary of the presence of (the mining company) Doe Run Peru operating in the Metallurgy Complex in La Oroya.

However, the mining industry is often the only thing that keeps these towns alive. Recently, the company Doe Run suspended its activities due to financial difficulties, and it has not been able to complete the environmental requirements. As a result, many residents are faced with protesting so that the mine re-opens, regardless of evidence of contamination affecting the community. Diana Horqque of the blog Hacker Moi Belle Kotoshi [es] writes about a conversation with a resident of La Oroya:

¿Están polarizadas las cosas en La Oroya?

Ciertamente lo están. Y una situación así es insostenible. Entre dos espadas que amenazan mi vida

¿Quién es el principal responsable de la contaminación en La Oroya?

La fundición señorita, la fundición… pero yo trabajo ahí. En la empresa me han dado de todo, ahí recibo mi sueldo, también ayudan al colegio de mis hijos; tengo facilidades en el hospital; y además, la empresa, ha hecho bastantes cosas por la ciudad. En las Navidades nos hacen las actividades con chocolatada y dan los uniformes para los partidos de fútbol con los demás trabajadores, señorita. Ustedes lo que quieren es cerrar la empresa. Además, si cierran la empresa, ¿A donde me voy? ¿A Jauja, a Cerro de Pasco, a Huancayo? ¿A donde señorita? Si aquí esta mi familia, aquí está mi historia de vida, mis hijos están creciendo aquí.

Pero señor, ¿sabe acaso usted que tener 5 gramos de plomo por decilitro en la sangre es altamente peligroso y que, según el estudio “Niveles de plomo sanguíneo en recién nacidos de La Oroya” [1], el 75,3% de los niños recién nacidos en la ciudad tienen entre 6 y 10 gramos de plomo en cada decilitro de sangre. Y que encima el 24,7% de los recién nacidos tienen más de 10 gramos de plomo en cada decilitro de sangre?

Are things polarized in La Oroya?

Of course they are. And it is an unsustainable situation. Between two swords that threaten my life.

Who is primarily responsible for the contamination in La Oroya?

The foundry, miss, the foundry …. but I work there. In the company the gave me everything, I receive my salary there, they also help with my children's school; I have access to health care at the hospital; and above all, the company has done a lot for the city. During Christmastime they provide chocolate and provide the uniforms for the football matches with the workers, miss. What you want is to close the company. If they close the company, where will I go? To Jauja, to Cerro de Pasco, to Huancayo? Where, miss? If my family is here, and here is my life's story, my children are growing up there.

But sir, don't you know that if one has 5 grams of lead per deciliter in one's blood, it is very dangerous, and according to the study “Levels of lead in the blood among newborns in La Oroya, [1] that 75.3% of newborns have between 6-10 grams of lead in each deciliter of blood. On top of that, 24.7% of newborns have 10 grams of lead per deciliter of blood?

It is expected that the government and the workers of Doe Run to resume negotiations to see if the deadline to fulfill the requirements of the PAMA (Environmental Suitability Program) so that the mine can continue its normal activities. Nevertheless, the workers have announced a strike for August 31.

Carlos Quiroz of Peruanista writes that the situation in La Oroya “seems to be worsening”:

According to AP, Workers at the smelter said [today] that they will erect blockades in the Junin region starting August 31 to demand the government give the company more time to complete a mandatory cleanup, which could pave the way for a restart of operations. ” The workers in this case are being used by Doe Run Peru who threaten them with massive lost of jobs.

The La Oroya case is another example of what happens when weak governments in dependant countries allow private corporations -especially foreign- to do what they please. This is done in the name of free market and corporate minded development recipes, imposed by rich countries in poorer nations mostly located in Latin America and Africa.

Other links include the blog of Corey Laplante, who spent 9 months in La Oroya investigating this issue, as well as Kristian Andersen's blog with photos of La Oroya. There are also YouTube videos about the environmental contamination.

There is also the trailer of the 2007 documentary called La Oroya: Metallic Air on the blog of Acullicu Film, and the complete film on the blog of Tropósfera [es].


  • Mark

    Great Reporting….However, the history of La Oroya was not reported…The Peruvian government ran the mine and smelter up to 1997..Blood Leads have been on a constant decrease eversince environmental corrective actions were undertaken by The Peruvian Government, The Citizens of La Oroya, and Doe Run…Is is better to starve or live a life influenced by pollution…Can we build or maintain an acceptable standard of living for the world without resources..

  • Godofredo Arauzo

    The years 2006 and 2007 the Blacksmith Institute have accomplished a research about the cities more contaminated to the world and arrived to the conclusion that the Oroya city was between the 10 cities more polluted of the world and, the environment Graffiti 2008 said that is between five more pollute too to the world. This qualifications are benevolents; according to my researchs to many years who I am publishing, the Oroya city is the most polluted to Peru, Latin America and of the world and every day is being more polluted: lead in blood in children in the Ancient Oroya in average 53.7 ug/dl ( DIGESA 1999); pregnancies women 39.49 ig/dl ( UNES 2000), new borns children 19.06 ug/dl, puerperal 319 ug/100 grams/placenta ( Castro 2003) and workers 50 ug/dl ( Doe Run 2003).Top lead in blood accepted 10 ug/dl; present day is 0 ug/dl ( Pediatric of Academy to USA)
    When the Oroya city was in hands to the CentroMin eliminated only by the upper chimney to 167.500 meters, in average by day in tons: sulfur dioxide 1000, lead 2500, arsenic 2500, cadmium 40, particulate matter 50 and so on, more 24,000 to toxis gas product to the incomplete combustion of the coal, without count it is eliminated by industrial incinerator y by the 97 smalls chimneys, it is estimated 15,000; overall 45,000 tons for day (PAMA . El Complejo Metalúrgico de la Oroya, 1996); other research say that by this chimney only eliminate overall 119¨917,440 tons too every day to a velocity to 8.7 meters by second ( Chuquimantari C. Yauli-La Oroya Minería y Ciudades Empresas Pág. 57, 1992)
    Doe Run envoy every three months the concentrations of the heavy metals to the Ministry to the Energy and Mines and with the sames datums Ceverstav have demostrated the pollution was increased; for example the sulfur dioxide it have increased in near to 300 %, by increment to the production (Cederstav. La Oroya no Espera 2002
    The American Association to the Environment say that the environmental quality to the Oroya it is serious deteriorated since that Doe Run was owner and the same enterprise
    declared that the concentrations of the heavy metals gas is ncreased in the air: lead 1160 %, cadmium 1990 % and arsenic 6006 % (Portugal, et al. Los Humos de Doe Run 2003)
    Dr.Godofredo Arauzo


    La Blacksmith Institute los años 2006 y 2007 han realizado investigaciones sobre las ciudades más contaminadas del mundo y llegó a la conclusión que la Oroya se halla entre las 10 ciudades más contaminadas del mundo, Graffiti el 2008 y Blacksmith Institute y Cruz Verde de Suiza 21-10-2008 lo consideran como una de las 5 ciudades más contaminadas también del mundo; han sido muy benévola; de acuerdo a mis investigaciones de varios años que vengo difundiendo, la Oroya es la más contaminada del Perú, América latina y también del mundo y cada vez se está contaminando más: plomo en sangre en niños de la Oroya Antigua 53.7 ug/dl (DIGESA 1999) embarazadas 39.49 ug/dl (UNES 2000), niños al nacer 19.06 ug/dl, puérperas 319 ug/100 gramos de placenta (Castro 2003) y 39 ug/dl en trabajadores (Doe Run 2003). Máximo aceptado de plomo en sangre 10 ug/dl;actualmente la Academia de Pediatría de USA considera como máximo permitido 0 ug/ dl.
    El 13-8-08, la concentración del bioxido de azufre (SO2) llegó a su record histórico: 27,000mg/m3; máximo permitido 13 mg/m3 (CDC 2005).
    Cuando la Oroya estaba en manos de Centromin eliminaba solamente por la chimenea de 167.500 metros de altura en promedio por día y toneladas: bióxido de azufre 1000, plomo 2500, arsénico 2500, cadmio 80, material particulado 50 y así sucesivamente, más 24,000 de gases tóxicos producto de la combustión incompleta del carbón, sin contar lo que se elimina por el incinerador industrial y por las 94 chimeneas pequeñas que se calcula 15,000; en total 45,000 toneladas por día (PAMA El Complejo Metalúrgico de la Oroya, 1996); otra investigación asegura que solamente por la chimenea más alta 119¨917,440 toneladas a una velocidad de 8.7 metros por segundo (Chuquimantari C. Yauli-La Oroya Minería y Ciudades Empresas Pág. 57, 1992)
    Doe Run envía cada 3 meses las concentraciones de los metales pesados al Ministerio de Energía y Minas y con estos datos Cederstav ha demostrado que la contaminación se ha incrementado; por ejemplo el bióxido de azufre se ha elevado a cerca del 300% por aumento de la producción (Cerderstav. La Oroya no Espera, 2002)
    La Asociación Interamericana del Ambiente dice que la calidad ambiental de la Oroya se ha deteriorado severamente desde que Doe Run se hizo cargo y la misma empresa declara que las concentraciones de los gases de metales pesados se ha incrementado en el aire: plomo 1160 %, cadmio 1990 % y arsénico 606 % (Portugal C y Cols. Los Humos de Doe Run, 2003)

    Dr, Godofredo Arauzo

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