Eight people have been hospitalized including a woman in critical condition following a mercury spill near the Minera Yanacocha mine, 600 kilometers (375 miles) north of Lima, Peru.
Approximately three gallons (330 pounds) of mercury spilled from a contractor's truck in Choropampa, 53 miles southwest of the mine, which is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation and Compania de Minas Buenaventura.
The truck was enroute from the mine in the Northern Peruvian Andes mountains to Peru's capital city of Lima on June 2.
Mine officials were notified the following morning by the Peruvian contractor RANSA, which began cleanup efforts and notified local people of the potential hazard.
The Ministry of Health brought in staff to diagnose and treat anyone with symptoms of mercury poisoning. Choropampa is home to 3,500 people.
"This accident is appalling," said Ronald Cambre, chairman and CEO of Newmont, from the company's headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Newmont is the largest gold producer in North America and second largest in the world.
"Our foremost concern is the health and safety of the people of Choropampa. Although the spill was not under our control, we are taking aggressive steps to implement health screening and environmental monitoring," Cambre said.
To date, half a gallon (55 pounds) of mercury has been recovered. It is believed most of the remaining mercury may be in the possession of the local people who have traditionally used it for medicinal purposes. Collection efforts are being coordinated by local authorities.
To date, 46 people in the area have notified the local clinic of symptoms of mercury poisoning. All have been administered blood tests. Eight people were evacuated to the hospital in nearby Cajamarca. Blood tests on the eight people hospitalized indicated some had elevated levels of mercury in their blood.
Seven of the eight people in hospital are reported to be recovering, but the eighth, a 38 year old woman, developed pneumonia after admission to the hospital and remains in critical condition.
Minera Yanacocha has flown a critical care specialist from Lima to attend to her, and Newmont is coordinating with the specialist to bring in special medicine for treatment of mercury poisoning, as well as further experts in mercury toxocology.
Minera Yanacocha, the transport company, and local authorities are investigating the incident to determine the cause of the spill, while shipments of mercury from the mine have been halted.
Mercury is a byproduct of gold production and is collected in its elemental form in the refinery. Mercury from Minera Yanacocha is sold to a Lima-based firm for use in medical instrumentation and industrial applications.
Minera Yanacocha is a joint venture gold mining operation that represents the first foreign investment in Peruvian mining in over 20 years. It is the largest gold producer in Latin America. It comprises four open pit mines -- Carachugo, Maqui Maqui, San Jose Sur and Cerro Yanacocha.
Last year, Minera Yanacocha produced 1.66 million ounces of gold. Plans call for production of 1.75 million ounces in 2000.
- 183 Environment