Peru river basin a toxic dump

The ¨Revive El Mantaro¨project has found high levels of toxins in the Mantaro river basin, an important water source in Peru’s central Andes. ¨Revive El Mantaro¨ – a campaign launched in July 2006 by civil society groups in six affected provinces – took soil and water samples at over 50 locations along a 105-mile stretch of the Mantaro basin.

The study found a cesspool of cyanide, lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, coliform from human waste and nitrates from agrochemicals.

According to the study, river contamination increased as they got closer to mines, including the Missouri-based Doe Run poly-metallic smelter in the city of La Oroya. In the Anticona river, for instance, lead concentrations are180 times higher than the baseline – established by taking samples at river sources where water is purest – and World Health Oganization reference levels. In the San Juan river, cyanide concentrations are up to 35 times higher than the baseline level.

Soil samples showed similar contamination. The study shows Arsenic levels around La Oroya at 4,713 ppm (parts per million), about 393 times higher than the maximum permissible level established by Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines. Cadmium was also found around La Oroya at 193.87 ppm, or about 138 times higher than permissible Canadian levels.

La Oroya is notorious for pollution. In 1999, the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru said 99 percent of children in and around La Oroya had blood lead levels exceeding acceptable levels. Little has changed.

La Oroya was named one of the 10 most polluted places in the world in 2006 and 2007 by New York based Blacksmith Institute. In September 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the Peruvian State to take measures to protect the health and lives of La Oroya residents.

¨Revive El Mantaro¨ researchers say a major problem is a lack of Peruvian legislation to protect human health and environmental quality. Huancayo’s archbishop, Pedro Barreto, told Inter Press Service that ¨mining companies should comply with international environmental standards, rather than national ones, which are beneath the dignity of the Peruvian people.¨

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