Congress votes to relocate Cerro de Pasco to protect population from mining contamination

Peru’s Congress voted unanimously last night to call for the relocation of Cerro de Pasco, a mining town and provincial capital high in Peru’s central Andes, where the air is thin and low in oxygen, the ground is rich in copper, zinc and silver, and the people are awash in acid rain.

Congress voted 95-0 in favor of moving the town of about 70,000 inhabitants, which lies 13,973 feet above sea level, next to the gaping open mining pit run by Volcan Compañía Minera S.A.A.

During two hours of debate, Congresswoman Gloria Ramos, whose commission sponsored the bill, said the move is necessary to protect the population from acid rain, unstable buildings that are constantly shaken by underground detonations of dynamite, and a lack of potable water, which is rationed for two hours a day, the Congressional Gazette reported.

A joint study in 2006 by Peru’s Ministry of Health and the Atlanta, U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control found that more than half of 123 children examined suffered from lead poisoning and elevated blood levels of other heavy metals, such as cesium and thallium.

Ramos told lawmakers they should not postpone moving the town until 2015, as suggested in an urban development plan produced by the Provincial Municipality of Pasco. Instead, she suggested that the move should occur now, while international metal prices are riding high, and Volcan can help foot the bill.

Volcan reported 2007 net income of $388.8 million compared with $245.4 million in 2006, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Cerro de Pasco, one of the highest altitude cities in the world, was established by the Spanish as an important silver mining town in 1578. Volcan bought the mining and exploration rights from Centromin when that State owned company was privatized in the 1990s.

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