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SRIC provides technical assistance at Peru smelter

La Oroya polymetallic smelter lies next to the Mantaro River in the Andes Mountains east of Lima, Peru. Recently purchased by Doe Run Mining Corporation, the largest lead producer in the United States, the smelter was the focus of an intensive technical assistance program involving SRIC in January 1999.

Working with the Sociedad Peruana de Derechos Ambientales (SPDA - the Peruvian Society for Environmental Rights) and Asociacion Interamericana para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente (AIDA - Interamerican Association for Defense of the Environment), SRIC's research director (on Mining) Paul Robinson evaluated proposed environmental changes at the smelter and met with officials of Doe Run Peru in La Oroya and Lima.

La Oroya has been producing copper, lead, zinc, silver, and a host of other metals since the mid-1920s, using ores from mines in the high Andes of central Peru. A major source of air and water pollution when purchased by Doe Run in 1997, the smelter complex was the subject of a "plan for environmental management and adjustment" (PAMA). The plan divided responsibility for past wastes and future emissions between Centromin - the Peruvian operator of La Oroya — and Doe Run. As a purchase incentive for Doe Run, Centromin has assumed responsibility for much of the existing pollution in the La Oroya area, while Doe Run will be responsible primarily for future waste streams.

Because Doe Run has up to 10 years to put the PAMA fully to work, thousands of gallons of heavy metal-contaminated waste water from its copper smelter, lead ovens, zinc furnaces, and other process units are still untreated and still discharged directly into the river. A gray haze of air pollution from the smelter's facilities blankets the Mantaro Valley and La Oroya, a city of approximately 50,000 people. The complex also continues to generate granulated slag as well as zinc-laden "ferritas"; and arsenic trioxides, bright turquoise solid wastes, are still dumped at unlined sites on alluvial terraces overlooking the Mantaro River.

SPDA's principal aim for the site visit was to establish a dialogue with Doe Run and encourage prompt and effective implementation of the PAMA. Direct discussions between environmental organizations and mining companies, including site tours, are unprecedented in Peru, making SPDA's goals to broaden public participation in solving the smelter's complex technical problems particularly challenging. Key issues for the first meeting and for follow-up discussions include:

  • reducing sulfur emissions through improved smelter operations and use of sulfuric acid production plants;
  • treating and recycling industrial waste waters and sludge;
  • constructing and monitoring lined landfills for arsenic trioxides and other solid wastes not amenable to recycling;
  • designing detailed reclamation plans that include financial assurances; and
  • constructing sewage treatment works for the whole community of La Oroya and for neighboring settlements and the Doe Run company housing areas.

SPDA's concerns also addressed the absence of design or monitoring data that would keep the public informed and help to put the PAMA into effect sooner. SPDA staff attorneys Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and Carlos Chirinos, along with AIDA's Anna Cederstav, staff scientist at the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund's San Francisco office, have consequently written Doe Run and the Peruvian Ministry for Energy and Minerals, which regulates the La Oroya complex, recommending follow-up actions. A detailed report supporting the letters and summarizing the trip to La Oroya and the proposed PAMA projects for La Oroya Smelter Complex in central Peru can be found on SRIC's Web site at EVALUATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY CHANGES PROPOSED FOR THE LA OROYA SMELTER COMPLEX IN CENTRAL PERU: FINAL REPORT.

- Paul Robinson

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