Polluting U.S. Owned Smelter in Peru Brought Before OAS

LIMA, Peru, March 23, 2007 (ENS) - The Peruvian government has done too little to halt contamination from a multi-metal smelter that is The Peruvian government has done too little to halt contamination from a multi-metal smelter that is causing health problems in La Oroya, a mining town in the Peruvian Andes, according to four public health and environmental organizations in Peru, Argentina and the United States.

The organizations have filed a petition with the Human Rights Division of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC seeking a recommendation that "the Peruvian government implement urgent measures to halt the grave violations against the health and lives of the citizens of La Oroya."

The filing was announced at a news conference Wednesday in Lima by attorney Carlos Chirinos of the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law, Astrid Puentes of the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, AIDA, Earthjustice, and the Center for Human Rights and Environment.

The petition claims the Peruvian government failed to place pollution controls on the smelter that operates in La Oroya, a situation that they say "tramples on the human rights of the town's citizens." About 35,000 people live in the town.

Doe Run Peru, a subsidiary of Doe Run Company of St. Louis, Missouri, owns the 80 year old complex, about 175 kilometers northeast of Lima, which the company purchased in 1997.

The environmental and human rights groups point out that recent monitoring of air quality performed by Doe Run itself shows that daily average sulfur dioxide levels are between 80 and 300 times the maximum level permitted by the World Health Organization, the public health and environmental groups say.

smelter

The Doe Run Peru multi-metals smelter in La Oroya, Peru. (Photo courtesy Occupational Knowledge International)
The area is also contaminated by lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, and cadmium. The Doe Run facility is a "tremendous source of heavy metal and sulfur dioxide emissions, and is to blame for severe public health problems," according to AIDA.

"Respiratory problems caused by sulfur dioxide contamination and lead poisoning are particularly widespread. In fact, according to a 1999 study by the Ministry of Health, 99.1 percent of the children in La Oroya suffered from lead poisoning while nearly 20 percent needed urgent hospitalization," AIDA says.

After seeing these results in 1999, the Peruvian Ministry of Health took no action to treat the children of La Oroya, limit exposure, or educate the public about the health risks.

Little medical care is available, says AIDA, and because lead inhibits neurological development in children, the thousands of children poisoned by the smelter will be impaired for life.

Other U.S. organizations have helped the people of La Oroya. Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, E-LAW, an organization of environmental lawyers based in Eugene, Oregon, worked with the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law and the Civil Association Labor to conduct soil sampling and help the community take steps to make its voice heard and protect public health. "The community, health officials, and the company are now working together to develop a plan to reduce emissions and clean up La Oroya," said E-LAW in 2003.

For its part, Doe Run says the company prides itself on its excellent environmental performance.

On August 24, 2006 the company announced that for the first time, Doe Run Peru’s La Oroya plant attained the ISO 14001: 2004 environmental standard, earning a Certificate of Recognition from the third-party environmental auditing firm SRI International.

"Since December 2005, we have been working diligently on this certification process, which represents an internationally recognized standard for environmental performance and systems,” said Jose Mogrovejo, vice president of environmental affairs at Doe Run Peru.

children

A La Oroya school playground adjacent to the smelter (Photo courtesy E-LAW U.S.)
"We are very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a team, and ISO 14001: 2004 certification is a significant milestone in delivering on our commitments to our communities, our employees and the environment," Mogrovejo said.

ISO 14001: 2004 is an internationally recognized environmental management system standard set by the International Standards Organization, concerning what an organization does to minimize harmful effects on the environment caused by its activities and achieving continual improvement of its environmental performance.

The five major elements of the ISO 14001: 2004 are environmental policy, planning, implementation and operations, checking and corrective action, and management review.

Not only is certification a tangible demonstration of Doe Run Peru’s pledge to improve environmental performance, but Mogrovejo said certification resulted from the company’s structured Environmental Management System, which Doe Run Peru began implementing upon its arrival in 1997 to prevent, reduce or eliminate the environmental impact of its activities, products and services.

The Doe Run Peru management says the company plans additional environmental improvements.

But in October 2006, the Blacksmith Institute listed the La Oroya smelter as one of the world's 10 worst polluted places.

The environmental action group based in New York City said the Peruvian government acknowledges the problems in La Oroya.

"Peru's Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution has been delayed for the 35,000 inhabitants," the Blacksmith Institute states. "In 2004, Doe Run Corporation asked the government for a four year extension to the plants environmental management plan."

In June 2006, Peru's Supreme Court gave the Ministry of Health 30 days to declare a health emergency in La Oroya, and to put in place an emergency health plan for the city. The ruling came in a case brought by the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law. An initial victory in the lower court was appealed by Peru's Health Ministry, forcing the plaintiffs to bring the suit to the Supreme Court.

A related request to protect health by issuing precautionary measures for La Oroya is still pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This case was brought by the Chirinos, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, Earthjustice, and the Center for Human Rights and Environment.