La Oroya

June 11, 2007

There is a mining conglomerate here in St. Louis called Doe Run. They have lead mining operations nearby in Herculaneum, Missouri, and in the Mantaro river valley of central Peru, most specifically in a little city called La Oroya.

There is also a congregation of Dominican sisters in Springfield, Illinois–not too far up the road. They have had a house of nuns in La Oroya for over forty years. The sisters travel and communicate between these two centers and constantly share their respective missions in prayer and other support.

These international linkages have also engaged each other in recent years. Herculaneum’s lead mine is in gross violation of EPA standards, emitting four times the permitted amount of pollutants. La Oroya, in Peru where standards are weaker and corruption is worse, is one of the ten most polluted cities in the world. Over 99% of the children under six have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. Doe Run is poisoning this town and the entire river valley, but little has been said because the employment situation in Peru is so desperate. The government desires foreign investment, and the workers need work, so Doe Run has been able to get by on threats that they will relocate if too much of a fuss is made. The company has employed similar tactics with comparable success in Missouri. In part thanks to the Dominican sisters, people from St. Louis have been in partnership with Peruvian counterparts to challenge Doe Run’s environmental devastation.

(Photo of La Oroya, taken from Inter Press Service.)

Today, at the invitation of my current presbytery (Giddings-Lovejoy), an interfaith delegation from La Oroya gave a press conference. The delegation is led by Monsignor Pablo Barreto, archbishop of Huancayo and includes Protestant and Jewish leadership as well. Several of the Dominican sisters who minister to the sick children in La Oroya were also present. I had the honor and pleasure of translating for the delegation. (This never would have happened in AZ where todo el mundo speaks Spanish!) Besides getting to be on TV and radio, I got to hear some pretty moving words.

The archbishop declared that they are not trying to blame Doe Run’s owner for the environmental degradation, but they are reminding him of his religious commitments (he is an Orthodox Jew) and inviting him to be an ethical and moral leader in the business world. Barreto countered the negative aspects of globalization by insisting that solidarity can now also be globalized; people from the whole earth can now be responsible and involved in the struggle to promote health, justice, and a dignified life. Elias Szczythnicki, secretary of Peru’s Interfaith Committee and represenative of several Latin American Jewish groups, shared the wisdom that God’s commandments can be divided into two groups: those that treat the relationship between God and humans and those that treat relationships between fellow human beings. It is a Jewish conviction that these two groups of relationships should be held in equal esteem, a conviction I share. He made it clear that, in La Oroya, all of these relationships are being tested and abused.

Much more information can be found here and here. For more about what the Presbyterian Church (USA) is doing, here.


4 Responses to “La Oroya”

  1. Songbird Says:

    Brett, what an encouraging story, thank you.

  2. Little Mary Says:

    holy shit. a presbytery doing something right.

  3. sheepdays Says:

    It is encouraging, and yes, quite a thrill to see religious types actually speaking truth to power.

  4. Godofredo Arauzo Says:

    The years 2006 and 2007 the Blacksmith Institute have accomplished a research about the cities more contaminated to the world and arrived to the conclusion that the Oroya city was between the 10 cities more polluted of the world and, the environment Graffiti 2008 said that is between five more pollute too to the world and the 2008 Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland say that Oroya is between the most polluted of the world. This qualifications are benevolents; according to my researchs to many years who I am publishing, the Oroya city is the more polluted to Peru, Latin America and of the world and every day is being more polluted: lead in blood in children in the Ancient Oroya in average 53.7 ug/dl ( DIGESA 1999); pregnancies women 39.49 ig/dl ( UNES 2000), new borns children 19.06 ug/dl, puerperal 319 ug/100 grams/placenta ( Castro 2003) and workers 50 ug/dl ( Doe Run 2003).Top lead in blood accepted 10 ug/dl; present day is 0 ug/dl ( Pediatric of Academy to USA)
    When the Oroya city was in hands to the CentroMin eliminated only by the upper chimney to 167.500 meters, in average by day in tons: sulfur dioxide 1000, lead 2500, arsenic 2500, cadmium 40, particulate matter 50 and so on, more 24,000 to toxis gas product to the incomplete combustion of the coal, without count it is eliminated by industrial incinerator y by the 97 smalls chimneys, it is estimated 15,000; overall 45,000 tons for day (PAMA . El Complejo Metalúrgico de la Oroya, 1996); other research say that by this chimney only eliminate overall 119¨917,440 tons too every day to a velocity to 8.7 meters by second ( Chuquimantari C. Yauli-La Oroya Minería y Ciudades Empresas Pág. 57, 1992)
    Doe Run envoy every three months the concentrations of the heavy metals to the Ministry to the Energy and Mines and with the sames datums Ceverstav have demostrated the pollution was increased; for example the sulfur dioxide it have increased in near to 300 %, by increment to the production (Cederstav. La Oroya no Espera 2002
    The American Association to the Environment say that the environmental quality to the Oroya it is serious deteriorated since that Doe Run was owner and the same enterprise
    declared that the concentrations of the heavy metals gas it is ncreased in the air: lead 1160 %, cadmium 1990 % and arsenic 6006 % (Portugal, et al. Los Humos de Doe Run 2003)

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