Environment Minister: $400 million needed to clean up more than 1,900 areas contaminated by mining activites

Peru could have to foot a bill topping $400 million to deal with environmental problems on more than 1,900 sites polluted by metal mining and rendered sterile or “highly toxic” by seepage of contaminated water from mine residue deposits, Environment Minister Antonio Brack Egg told a womens mining conference Friday.

Of the targeted 1,900 sites, 40 are considered “highly toxic,” and 610 require immediate attention and on-site decontamination. Most of these sites are located in Junín, Pasco and Cajamarca.

The health and environmental crisis in La Oroya, a central highland mining town dubbed “Slow Chernobyl” for the appalling environmental impact of contamination generated by a U.S.-run smelter, is a perfect example of the environmental impacts resulting from mining activity. In the valley, where the surrounding limestone mountains have been stained black and burned bare of vegetation by acid rain, 99 percent of children have dangerously high blood lead levels.

These environmental liabilities were left behind by old-school mining, Brack said, especially up until 1993, when Peru began enacting its first environmental legislation.

Today, said Brack in comments to daily La República, contamination is mainly a consequence of an uncontrollable “informal mining mafia.”

“Its a tough issue and the only way to control it is by cooperating with the police and the Army,” said Brack. “It’s a mafia that has encysted itself and doesn’t let anyone in even though they are harming the environment” by resorting heavily to harsh metals such as cyanide and mercury.

Peru’s Environmental Ministry was officially launched in May, on the eve of the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit.

García enacted the ministry with the stroke of his pen by legislative decree, without approval from Congress, as a deadline loomed to meet environmental provisions included in the free trade agreement with the United States.

Environmental legislation in Peru has been characterized by repeated progress and reversals.

In 2002, the government launched an aggressive campaign to promote private investment in hydrocarbons. Elements of this policy “include a reduction in royalties payable to the government, less rigid terms and conditions for petroleum exploration and extraction contracts, and a refund of the general sales tax on exploration, among other measures.”

Peru’s principal environmental problems are air pollution – especially in Lima due to vehicle and industrial emissions – water pollution, soil erosion resulting from overgrazing on the slopes of the costa and sierra and deforestation. 11 thousand tons of solid waste are created every day in the country and the past century has taken 10 million hectares away from Peru’s Amazon jungles.

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