From: Rick Vecchio, Associated Press
Published August 11, 2005 12:00 AM

American Research Team to Study Impact of U.S.-Owned Smelter on Peru Townspeople

LIMA, Peru — A research team from an American university will study the impact toxic emissions are having on townspeople in La Oroya, a bleak, smoke-choked town where a U.S. company operates a metallurgical plant.


Lead poisoning is well established in the town, but little is known about the effects of other contaminants on the 30,000 residents who live high in Peru's central Andes, said Dr. Fernando Serrano, whose eight-member team from the St. Louis University School of Public Health will conduct the study next week.


"We know as a byproduct of smelting of the various metals in La Oroya, a number of metals are emitted into the environment," he said Wednesday. "But we don't know how much.


"We want to know how much arsenic, how much cadmium, how much nickel, how much mercury and many other metals are present in the bodies and homes of these people."


The local plant is owned by St. Louis-based Doe Run Co., the largest integrated lead producer in North America. Its Peru facility produces copper, lead, zinc and smaller amounts of gold, silver and other metals.


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Doe Run spokesman Orlando Huaypaya declined to comment Wednesday on the study planned by the St. Louis University team.


The company agreed to a cleanup program when it purchased the 82-year-old smelter in 1997 from state-owned Centromin, which ran the plant from 1974.


The company has said it is doing its best to correct the health problems and has pledged to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from its stack, as well as work to cut fugitive emissions of lead and other heavy metals that seep through the smelter windows, doors and roofs.


Serrano said his team was asked to come to Peru by Rev. Pedro Ricardo Barreto, a local Catholic archbishop who represents several grass roots organizations.


"They want to make sure that the study is completely independent," Serrano said. "All the analysis will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, our own lab in St. Louis, and another certified lab, also in St. Louis."


The university is paying most of the US$450,000 (euro363,900) cost of collecting and analyzing blood samples from about 250 local people in La Oroya and the nearby town of Concepcion, he said. The British aid agency Oxfam is also contributing some funds.


A study late last year by the company and health authorities showed that 99.9 percent of nearly 800 children aged six and under living near the smelter had blood lead levels that still exceeded international standards.


In April, Peruvian Judge Rosario Alfaro ordered the Ministry of Health to develop and implement a "public health emergency plan" to alleviate toxic emissions in La Oroya.


The Peruvian government appealed the ruling and oral arguments are scheduled for December, said Carlos Chirinos, a staff attorney with the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law.


Source: Associated Press


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