The Dangers of Heavy Metal

In March, advocates from Peruvian human rights and environmental organizations met in Washington, D.C., with representatives from the Inter-American Com­mission on Human Rights and the Peruvian government to demand justice for the people of La Oroya, Peru. La Oroya is one of the 10 most polluted places on earth, according to the Blacksmith Institute, a U.S. think tank that fights pollution in the developing world.

Activists blame the pollution on the poor environmental controls of Doe Run Peru, a corporation that mines and processes heavy metals; it is owned by U.S. industrialist Ira Ren­nert of The Renco Group. The Peruvian Ministry of Health re­ported that 99 percent of La Oroya’s children suffered from lead poisoning, and 20 percent required urgent hospitalization. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), U.S. Catholic bishops, and Peruvian religious institutions are publicly encouraging Doe Run to adhere to environmental laws regarding emissions and protect workers and children, but to little avail. Astrid Puentes, a lawyer with the Inter-American Association for Environ­mental De­fense, told Sojourners, “If this is something the Peruvian government won’t force Doe Run to do, then they won’t do it.”

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