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LOCAL Commentary :: Environment

Missouri Company Makes Money Dumping Heavy Metals on Peruvian Town

Doe Run Peru a subsidiary of the Doe Run Corp. based in St. Louis, continues spewing deadly heavy metals on La Oroya, Peru inspite of the fact that children there suffer from skyhigh levels of lead, arsenic, and cadmium.
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The Metallurgical Complex run by Doe Run in La Oroya, Peru.
It has now been nearly two years since a University of St. Louis health team tested the levels of lead in the blood of the children in La Oroya, Peru and the results proved that Doe Run Peru, a subsidiary of the St. Louis based Doe Run Corp., had been lying for years. Not only had the levels of lead in the blood of the children not dropped, but more than 97 percent of the children had elevated lead levels in their blood, with some cases reaching as high as seven times higher than the allowable level according to the World Health Organization. The study showed that the metallurgical complex run by the company had been dumping extreme levels of heavy metals on the town for years and the city was reaching a crisis point.
Two years have passed and despite growing pressure from citizens and the international community, the company has little about the problem. Instead of complying with the environmental standards and improvements they agreed to make when they bought the complex in 1997, they engaged in a dirty campaign of slander and fear to pressure the government into giving them an extension on the 2006 deadline for improvements. They publicly threatened to close down the plant if they government did not comply. Thus the local citizens had to choose between work and their ability to feed and educate their children and there own health.
They engaged in a direct and indirect slander and intimidation campaign against anyone who stood up for their right to a clean environment. Everyone from the Catholic Church to local NGOs and community organizations were called corrupt, and foreign. The climate of fear they promoted was so strong that effigies of the local Archbishop were burned in the town’s squares and when the St. Louis University team came, the company’s supporters confronted them violently with rocks and eggs. The company even circulated flyers calling the team vampires.
In the face of such fear and intimidation it is harder to find people with the courage to stand up to the exploitation. Yet in La Oroya, a growing number of citizens are doing just that. They are demanding that the company become a sustainable part of the community. They are not fazed by the threat of social and economic isolation. People from diverse parts of the society are speaking up. Members of the local catholic parishes, school boards, NGOs, and community organizations are becoming more and more vocal despite the climate of fear.
They are risking a lot to hold the company accountable. Perhaps it is time we start to do the same.
As lead and other heavy metal prices soar to all time highs, it is clear that the company is making millions of dollars in La Oroya. The owner of the company, Ira Rennert, has paid himself nearly 100 million dollars in “consultant’s fees” in recent years. That’s roughly the same amount that would be necessarily to make the improvements to the plant demanded by the community.
Missouri knows all too well about the activities of Doe Run. The plant that they run in Herculaneum is an infamous polluter. The pollution is so bad, the company has been forced to relocate the residents that live near the plant. Yet in La Oroya the lead levels are 11 times higher, the cadmium levels 20 times higher, and the arsenic levels more than 1,200 times higher than the levels in Missouri’s most polluted city.
In Missouri it is time to start putting pressure on the company not only to clean up here in our own backyard, but in Peru as well. The voices of the people in La Oroya, backed up by ours needs to be heard. Perhaps if the pressure on Doe Run is felt from both sides it will be too much for them and instead of letting greed drive the business, the people in La Oroya can have a say about their environment.

For more information about La Oroya check out: manosperu.org in English and if you speak Spanish: todosobrelaoroya.org. To get involved contact the addresses on the site.

The contact information and address of Doe Run in St. Louis:

1801 Park 270 Drive, Suite 300
St. Louis, MO 63146
314-453-7100
contact (at) doerun.com
 
 

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