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Doe Run bailed out
Marisol Acuña
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Mining companies put out for Doe Run Peru as smelter poised to continue contaminating La Oroya.

“Let the company step aside and allow another company that respects workers´ rights step in,” said a statement by workers of Doe Run Peru in a union assembly on March 31.

The workers, members of the La Oroya Metallurgical Workers Union are now worried over the future of their jobs at the plant after Doe Run Peru announced its insolvency. Environmental activists call the company irresponsible and accuse it of seeking to get out of completing a government-ordered environmental clean-up.

Doe Run Peru runs the La Oroya smelter in Peru´s central Andes, one of the world´s most polluted towns. A lack of cash flow after banks cut off its credit lines to purchase concentrates caused the company to temporarily shut the smelter, which refines and processes gold, zinc, lead and other metals.

On Feb. 24 banks BNP Paribas, Banco de Credito and Standard Bank cut off the company´s credit line of $75 million, and shortly afterward, Doe Run Peru said it was unable to pay for concentrates.

The company announced its insolvency in February. It had reportedly sought a $150 million-bailout from the Peruvian government to complete its long-anticipated Environmental Clean-up and Management Plan, or PAMA.

“Why is the Doe Run company asking for the collaboration of the Peruvian government, saying that the economic crisis is affecting it, when it had an enormous income in 2006, 2007 and 2008,” asked Rosa Amaro, president of the Movement for the Health of La Oroya. “If they´re not able to continue working, let another, more responsible company come that will worry about our health and fulfilling the PAMA.”

The situation and temporary suspension of most operations there put 3,500 jobs on the line.

On April 15, the company reversed its decision to send 75 percent of its 3,500 workers on a forced 30-day holiday amid pressure from protesting employees.

Cleaning up?
Doe Run Peru has managed the La Oroya complex since 1997, when it committed itself to implementing an environmental management plan within a 10-year period, particularly cutting down emissions.

But the changes were not implemented and the company received a two-year extension to implement the plan, drawing harsh criticism against Peru´s government for ignoring the urgent health problems the smelters´ emissions cause.

One housewife in La Oroya says she and her husband, who works for the company, have blood lead levels of around 90 micrograms per deciliter. The World Health Organization says the maximum human limit for blood lead levels is 10 micrograms per deciliter. She refused to give her name, saying she feared retaliation from the company.

The company says the contamination is a result of poor hygiene, “for not washing your hands before you eat,” said another La Oroya resident, whose 4-year-old daughter has a blood lead level of 44 micrograms per deciliter.

Children worst affected
La Oroya is known for being one of the 10 most polluted cities on the planet. A study conducted by Peruvian government health and environmental agencies and the University of St. Louis found that more than 99 percent of the children under the age of 6 in La Oroya have blood lead levels above the World Health Organization standard. Other studies have shown lead in blood can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her child.

But results have not been enough for urgent action. In 2002, a group of La Oroya residents filed a case before the Constitutional Court against the Health Ministry. In June 2006, the court ordered the ministry to design an emergency public health plan for La Oroya and implement it within a month. This has not yet occurred.

In August 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights emitted a cautionary warning to the Peruvian government about the impact of the pollution on local residents.

But despite its record, on April 2, a group of 15 miners bailed out Doe Run with two credit lines totaling $175 million. The company offered the government a controlling stake as a guarantee that it would fulfill the environmental management plan, and the government, once again, gave Doe Run Peru another extension, this time until October 2010.

Activists working in La Oroya in an April 7 statement urged the government to monitor not only the fulfillment of the plan, but ensure that emissions are drastically reduced in order to ensure the local population´s health.
—Latinamerica Press.

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