Real action for children from La Oroya (Peru) living under pollution conditions


La Oroya, a mining town in the central Peruvian Andes and the location of a poly metallic smelter, has been exposed to a variety of toxic emissions and wastes for more than eight decades. La Oroya (Pop. 35,000) is home of several smelters operations (copper, lead, and zinc), which have been the principal job generating activity in the area. Although this town has been known for this type of mining activity, the state and local government have been ignoring the villagers’ socio-economical and health problems. La Oroya has been cited as one of the ten most polluted places in the world since 2007 by the Blacksmith Institute, an American environmental organization. Unfortunately, like in the past, La Oroya mining plant has been managed by foreign corporations which have terribly underestimated the negative results of their mining activities. The Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation has been held as principally responsible for the air contamination and the extremely high lead levels founded in La Oroya’s human population.

For the past decades, mining cities and regions like La Oroya, Madre de Dios among others have been the target of unscrupulous, ambitious, and unconscious foreign corporations which targeted their enterprise interests into small towns in the Peruvian Andes with the only purpose of taking advantage of the country natural resources obtained from the mines. Concomitantly, some corrupted Peruvian authorities have been playing blindness and ignoring such a crime. One of the most significant and critical findings were evidence of lead contamination in children’s blood. In 1999, for the first time, the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru found that 99% of children living in and around La Oroya have high blood lead levels. On the same year, Peruvian Ministry of health conducted a survey which revealed alarming results among local children, averaging 33.6 µg/dL (children between 6 months to 10 years of age). The results clearly showed three times the World Health Organization (WHO) limits of 10µg/dL for lead. These alarming results brought health local authorities and international environmental agencies’ attention. Lead has multiple effects and compromises different systems in the human body. Lead poisoning is well known to be mainly harmful to the mental development of children, decrease attention span in young children.

I am totally convinced that cities like La Oroya must take in consideration its local characteristics, resources, economical activities, capacities or political will, to be able to control this type of negligence. The effective strategy problem of La Oroya is one of management. Effective measures require not only treating lead poisoning. It requires the harmonized interaction of key local governments, residents, and/or action by international institutions. La Oroya and the Peruvian government have to learn the painful lessons from the past to adequately develop practical models to avoid future devastating environment problems.
The experience and especially, the reality of La Oroya today are in need of adequate policy regulations which can stop the abuse from American or European Corporations which sometimes only follow rules in their own countries but not in places like La Oroya.
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2 Responses to “Real action for children from La Oroya (Peru) living under pollution conditions”

  1. hfoley518 Says:

    Thank you so much for creating such an interesting and moving blog post, Ophezm. A really good friend of mine recently completed her Peace Corps service as a Community Health Promoter in Huaraz (Ancash), which is about 285 kilometers (obviously depends on the roads you take; the distance can vary greatly) from La Oroya, Peru.

    According to the Blacksmith Institute, adults and children in La Oroya have been exposed to the toxic emissions and wastes from the plant since 1922. This mine town located in the Peruvian Andes continues to be one of the most polluted places on earth. When investigating this issue further, I found that even though the CDC reiterates that “the situation in La Oroya is not a new environmental public health issue,” I still have a hard time grappling with the fact that 99% of children living in and around La Oroya have high blood lead levels. It seems unreal. I wonder what the current state of emission control and soil contamination is today? I think one of the looming public health challenges is for all parties involved to determine the best way to bring about real solutions in La Oroya. What mechanisms and activities will rapidly rectify this devastating state of pediatric health? I would like to know more about the existing environmental public health infrastructure and the current government involvement of the mining industry in Peru. My understanding is that the environmental health issues experienced/seen in La Oroya have been observed similarly throughout Latin America. It seems like there needs to be more regular and routine assessment of the conditions that are contributing to the reported health problems in the smelter community of La Oroya, especially in terms of this future impact on maternal and child health if certain practices of the plant remain unaltered. I wonder how healthcare providers in the community would describe the situation. Are people able to easily identify exposure pathways? Are community members receiving adequate information to accurately assess behaviors, signs, and symptoms of lead poisoning in children? I’m very curious about the kind of information local residents are receiving concerning environmental contaminants, risk levels, and health effects. Prevention seems so crucial: how can all stakeholders come together to prevent and control human exposure to lead and other contaminants from these mining activities?

  2. nadjei Says:

    It’s always remarkable to read cases like this where corporate greed completely obstructs any human decency. I wonder, in a case like this, if the townspeople were to get together, would they even have a voice. Given that World Health Organization has such a tremendous impact on public health and primary health care worldwide, they, or a similar governing agency should impose regulations that would require all corporations seeking to build in foreign countries to adhere to the environmental laws of the country in which they are building or their own home country, whichever is harsher. In the meantime, the corporations, while they provide safety educational material and gear for the workers of the mines (I’m assuming here), they also should for the townspeople until they have demonstrated that their emissions are at relatively safe levels. (Of course there would need to be many educational campaigns and programs to encourage the use of the safety gear. This should also be provided by the company. Maybe they’ll think twice about taking advantage of poor townspeople.)Thanks so much for your post!

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