The Doe Run Peru Smelter Causes a Public Health Crisis

La Oroya, Peru

For years, the giant Doe Run Peru smelter operated 24 hours a day, continuously spewing toxic smoke laden with heavy metals upon the densely populated city of La Oroya in the Peruvian Andes. The smelter emitted such enormous quantities of pollution that many residents now suffer from chronic respiratory illnesses and nearly all children in the city have lead poisoning.

If internationally accepted health standards were enforced, many of these children would immediately receive medical attention or be hospitalized. Yet most do not, and because lead inhibits brain development, children in La Oroya may be injured for life.

Since 1998, AIDA has used varied strategies to protect public health in La Oroya. We brought a case and a request for precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of local citizens.

Through media work and by providing technical and legal information, we have educated local organizations, government agencies, and the affected community regarding the contamination and health problems in the city. AIDA’s 2002 publication, La Oroya Cannot Wait, helped kick-start the far-reaching international campaign to save La Oroya.

Sadly, even though national courts, international authorities, and countless organizations and institutions are now calling for action in La Oroya, the Peruvian government, the operating company (Doe Run Peru), and the owners (the U.S. Renco Group), have been slow to respond.

Although some environmental improvements have been made, and programs to assist the most threatened children now exist, much work remains to be done. Serious efforts must be made to reduce emissions, limit public exposure to lead and other contaminants, and educate people about the health risks.

Until this crisis is resolved, AIDA will continue its efforts to protect the human rights to health, to life, and to live in a healthy environment in La Oroya.

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