PERU: Town Polluted by Metals Producer

Publisher Name: 
Associated Press

LIMA, Peru - Environmentalists declared victory Friday after winning a
preliminary civil court ruling ordering health officials to alleviate
toxic emissions in La Oroya, a bleak, smoke-choked town where
U.S.-based Doe Run Co. operates a metallurgical plant.

"After more than two years of a long trial, just recently the
sentence was handed down," Carlos Chirinos, a staff attorney with the
Peruvian Society for Environmental Law, told The Associated Press. "It
is very possible that the Peruvian government will appeal, but we say
that it is a very, very important order."

In a decision dated April 7, Judge Rosario Alfaro cited
several health studies on the effects of lead, arsenic and cadmium in
the town of 30,000 people high in Peru's central Andes.

"These documents conclude that the level of existing minerals
in the environment in La Oroya far surpass permissible levels of
contaminates in the air," Alfaro wrote.

She ordered the Ministry of Health and the General Directorate
for Environmental Health to develop and implement a "public health
emergency plan."

Peru's Health Ministry did not respond to AP's requests for comment.

Doe Run Peru is owned by the St. Louis-based Doe Run Co., the
largest integrated lead producer in North America. Its Peru facility
produces copper, lead, zinc and smaller amounts of gold, silver and
other metals. The company agreed to a cleanup program when it purchased
the 82-year-old smelter in 1997 from state-owned Centromin, which ran
the plant from 1974.

The company has said it doing its best to correct the health
problems and has pledged to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide
emissions from its stack, as well as work to cut fugitive emissions of
lead and other heavy metals that seep through the smelter windows,
doors and roofs.

In a 2000-01 study, the company found that average lead levels
in the blood of 1,198 residents tested were 2.5 times above World
Health Organization limits.

In 1999, Peru's Health Ministry determined that 99 percent of
the children in the area suffered from lead poisoning, with nearly 20
percent in need of urgent hospitalization.

Lead poisoning can cause behavior disorders, slow growth,
impaired learning, anemia and kidney damage. All ages are susceptible,
but children tend to be hit harder because they play outside in
contaminated dust.

A study late last year by the company and health authorities
showed that 99.9 percent of nearly 800 children aged six and under
living near the smelter had blood lead levels that exceeded
international standards.

That study did not examine blood levels of children older than
six, the California-based Interamerican Association of Environmental
Defense said Friday in a statement.

"Although the health authorities recently announced a medical
intervention program to treat the most severely poisoned children in
the La Oroya Antigua neighborhood, the proposed program fails to
consider harms suffered by the many thousands of other children and
adults in the city," the group said.

Last year, the company threatened to pull out of La Oroya if
Peru did not grant it a five-year extension to complete environmental
upgrades, including construction of a US $100 million (euro77.71
million) sulfuric acid plant by 2007.

The government in December published a decree to allow
companies to modify their environmental cleanup programs for
"exceptional reasons," and receive specific project extensions for up
to four years. Doe Run accepted the terms.

AMP Section Name:Environment