Toxic Doe Run lead smelter could reopen in La Oroya, Peru

By jforres

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Washington, D.C. – International humanitarian organization Oxfam America calls on Peru’s government to stand firm against reopening Doe Run lead smelter in La Oroya, one of the most contaminated places in the world, until it meets its environmental clean-up commitments.

The call comes as the Peruvian government is debating whether to grant Doe Run Peru another extension for environmental remediation commitments it made when it purchased the smelter from the Peruvian government in 1997. If it’s granted, the smelter could reopen and put La Oroya’s children at risk again. According to government studies in 2011, blood lead levels in children have decreased since a 2005 study conducted by St. Louis University, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control, which concluded that 97 percent of the children in the town under age six had elevated blood lead levels. In recent statements, Peru’s government has sharply questioned Doe Run’s willingness to address the environmental issues at La Oroya.

“We hope the Peruvian government will maintain its firm position vs. Doe Run in the current negotiations and stand up for the health of workers and innocent children of La Oroya,” said Keith Slack, global manager of Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program. “The smelting operation should remain closed until the company takes adequate steps to control toxic pollution.”

However, US-based Renco Group, Doe Run’s parent company, has shifted blame for La Oroya’s environmental problems onto the Peruvian government by filing an $800 million lawsuit against Peru under the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement. Oxfam America believes the claim is one of several tactics the company is using to pressure the Peruvian government to grant Doe Run Peru reprieve from meeting its environmental commitments.

To add to the debate, 18 members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner expressing their concerns regarding the behavior of Renco Group and its subsidiary. It urges the US government to refrain from supporting the company in its trade dispute with Peru.

“We believe that the poor environmental record of this company reflects negatively on the image of the United States in Peru and Latin America and jeopardizes the credibility of American efforts to promote responsible foreign investment,” said the letter.

In a separate letter to Peru’s Congress, Russ Carnahan, another member of Congress, expresses his concerns over the lead smelter in La Oroya. Congressman Carnahan represents the 3rd district of Missouri, which is home to a lead smelter operation owned by the same US-based Doe Run Corporation and its parent, Renco Group. Similar to the smelting operation in Peru, children and families living near the facilities in Herculaneum, MO have been exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. However, in 2010, Doe Run reached an agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency to pay $65 million for violating environmental laws, as well as a $7 million civil penalty to pay for environmental remediation.

“We are heartened that prominent members of the US Congress are taking a stand against environmental polluters like Renco Group’s Doe Run lead smelter,” said Rocio Avila, program officer for Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program. “The US government should not support companies like Renco Group who abuse investor-state provisions in trade and investment agreements.”

So far, more than 35,000 people have signed a petition calling on the US government to hold the company accountable, which has presented the Peruvian government with a number of onerous demands. These include, assuming responsibility for a 2007 personal injury lawsuit filed against Doe Run in Missouri courts on behalf of 137 sickened Oroyan children; covering the cost of Doe Run complying with the environmental remediation plan; and insisting the government cancel $21.7 million in fines and other penalties it has accumulated over the years.

Peru’s government will make a decision on Doe Run’s demands tomorrow.