Junín residents demand solution to grave environmental contamination in the region and city of La Oroya

Representatives of Junín’s Environmental Association delivered a 9,548-signature petition to Peru President Alan García on Wednesday, demanding a solution for the severe environmental contamination in the region, and especially in La Oroya.

Residents have also demanded that Doe Run Peru, which runs the poly-metallic smelter in La Oroya, comply with its environmental clean-up plan, and that children and elderly affected by the contamination be attended to immediately, daily El Comercio reported.

Earlier this month, ending weeks of speculation of a government bailout, fifteen mining companies dependent on Doe Run Peru’s smelter extended the U.S.-owned mining company a $175 million credit line. And, the Peruvian government gave Doe Run yet another extension to comply with an environmental clean-up program at La Oroya, a city which has been dubbed “Slow Chernobyl” for the appalling environmental impact of contamination generated by the U.S.-run smelter.

The new tentative date by which Doe Run must meet the terms of its environmental cleanup plan – which it agreed to more than 10 years ago – is 2010.

The metallurgical complex of La Oroya is comprised of smelters and refineries to process copper, lead, zinc and silver, as well as several sub-products. It is one of the few complexes that processes so-called bulk concentrate. Approximately 30 mining companies operating in central Peru sell copper, zinc, gold and silver concentrates to the U.S.-owned smelter.

The poly-metallic smelter and refinery complex has been spewing clouds of toxic lead, copper, zinc and sulfur dioxide-filled smoke for more than 80 years. 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. The city, which lies 3,300 meters, or nearly 11,000 feet, above sea level, was named one of the ten most polluted places in the world by the Blacksmith Institute in 2006 and 2007.

Sulfur dioxide emissions from the U.S.-run Doe Run smelter sometimes reach 10 times the amount considered acceptable by the World Health Organization, or WHO, and the annual mean concentration exceeds this level by a factor of two or three. And, last August, record-breaking levels of sulfur dioxide were detected.

According to Junín residents and a scientific study carried out under the auspices of the “Revive El Mantaro” project, mine waste dumped by Doe Run’s La Oroya poly-metallic smelter is spreading into neighboring provinces and threatening a chain of lakes and rivers that feed into the Mantaro River, one of the main water sources in Peru’s central Andes Mountains.

According to the study, the Mantaro, which is one of the main sources of irrigation water and electric power in the fertile Mantaro river basin, or the breadbasket of Peru, carries in its headwaters 12.3 tons of copper, 313 tons of steel, 11.8 tons of lead and 9.9 tons of arsenic every year.

Basically a dump for toxic substances, the Mantaro has became a veritable sewer containing cyanide, lead, arsenic, copper, cadmium, mercury, and zinc and other metal contaminants that affect human health whose concentration threshold has exceeded limits set by the World Health Organization, or WHO.

Permitted WHO lead concentrations in water used for human consumption are set at a maximum of 1.3 milligrams per liter. But, in the Mantaro and the chain of lakes and rivers that flow into it, the study detected levels that exceeded this set limit by more than 228 times.

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