Public Health Crisis in La Oroya, Peru

Metallurgical Complex of La Oroya in Peru

Metallurgical Complex of La Oroya.

La Oroya, Peru

For just under a century, a metal smelter has spewed toxic clouds full of heavy metals over the densely populated city of La Oroya, in the Peruvian Andes. Nearly all the city’s residents have lead and other heavy metals poisoning their bodies, and many residents suffer chronic respiratory illness.

If internationally accepted health standards were enforced, the people of La Oroya would receive immediate, intensive medical attention. Yet most do not, and the few who do receive inadequate care. Because lead inhibits brain development, the children of La Oroya are in the most vulnerable situation and will likely be affected for life.

AIDA became involved with La Oroya in 1998, and we have since used varied strategies to protect public health, the environment and the rights of its residents. AIDA’s 2002 publication, La Oroya Cannot Wait, helped kick-start the far-reaching international campaign to save La Oroya. Through media outreach and by providing technical and legal information, we have educated government agencies and the affected community about the contamination and health problems in the city.

Despite calls for action from national courts and international authorities, the responsible parties—including the Peruvian government, Doe Run Peru and its parent corporation, the U.S.-based Renco Group—have been unwilling to respond with appropriate vigor or urgency.

Although certain environmental improvements have been made and a health center provides some assistance to the affected people we represent, much more remains to be done.

What We’re Doing:

AIDA is using international law in our effort to compel the government to: adequately control the operations of the smelter in order to limit public exposure to airborne contaminants; assume responsibility for the human rights violations caused to the people of La Oroya; and educate residents about health risks.

  • Since 2005, AIDA has represented residents of La Oroya before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2007, in response to our request, the Commission granted precautionary measures to prevent harm to the health, integrity and lives of the people of La Oroya. In 2016, the Commission extended the scope of the precautionary measures to 14 more people of La Oroya.
  • AIDA and our partners continually update the Commission with evidence that the Peruvian government has failed to comply with the precautionary measures. The case remains pending a decision on the merits. 

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