La Oroya, Peru

La Oroya, Peru

Potentially Affected People: Type of Pollutant: Source of Pollution:
35,000 Lead, copper, zinc, and sulfur dioxide. Heavy metal mining and processing

The Problem:


Since 1922, adults and children in La Oroya, Peru – a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter – have been exposed to the toxic emissions and wastes from the plant. Peru’s Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering from critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution has been delayed for the 35,000 inhabitants. Currently owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, the plant has been largely responsible for the dangerously high blood lead levels found in the children of this community.


Health Impacts:


Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable limits, according to studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children. A survey conducted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health in 1999 revealed blood lead levels among local children to be dangerously high, averaging 33.6 micrograms/decilitre for children between the ages of 6 months to ten years, triple the WHO limit of 10 micrograms/decilitre.


Sulfur dioxide concentrations also exceed the World Health Organization guidelines by a factor of ten. The vegetation in the surrounding area has been destroyed by acid rain due to high sulfur dioxide emissions. To date, the extent of soil contamination has not been studied and no plan for clean up has been prepared.


Numerous studies have been carried out to assess the levels and sources of lead and other metals still being deposited in La Oroya. Limited testing has revealed lead, arsenic and cadmium soil contamination throughout the town. 

Status of Clean-Up Activity:


An environmental management plan has been developed for the processing plant. However, Doe Run Corporation asked the government for a four year extension to the plant’s environmental management plan in 2004. A concerted NGO movement is now underway to pressure the company and the government to develop effective strategies for implementation of site remediation agreements and to provide health care for affected residents.


Some sampling and testing has been done in the local communities and the areas outside the plant proper to determine the levels of pollutants. However, these studies were focused on outdoor contamination and suspected indoor pollution sources have not yet been assessed in detail.


In response to the listing of La Oroya in the 2006 Top Ten, Doe Run sent a letter to Blacksmith Institute on May 2, 2007 stating that it has curbed its toxic emissions and has invested approximately $1 million yearly in joint program with the Peruvian Ministry of Health designed to lower blood lead levels in the region. Doe Run states that it has made significant capital investments in emission control systems, water treatment plants and changing rooms. The company has also introduced occupational and population health programs and has made more public its environmental improvement efforts. Emission levels are reported to have fallen since these health programs and investments were made in new technologies. Doe Run is also investing in community development and poverty alleviation efforts by implementing various job-training programs.




“Development of an integrated intervention plan to reduce exposure to lead and other contaminants in the mining center of La Oroya, Peru”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Environmental Health/ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services. (2005)


“Crisis Deepens in La Oroya” Oxfam America. (2004) December 20.

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