(c) 2017 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Exporting Illness Worldwide: Heavy Metal Contamination From a U.S. Owned Smelter in Peru

English: The La Oroya train station 1921
English: The La Oroya train station 1921
(Photo credit: 

Today's post is shared from Occupational Knowledge International

The town of La Oroya, Peru - the site of an American owned smelter - is suffering from decades of unregulated emissions from the plant which continue to this day. According to the Peruvian Ministry of Health, blood lead levels among local children are dangerously high averaging 33.6 micrograms/deciliter, triple the World Health Organization limit of 10 micrograms/deciliter, while the vegetation in the surrounding area has been destroyed by acid rain. Limited environmental sampling has revealed lead levels exceeding public health standards in almost 90 percent of the homes, extensive soil contamination, and excessive airborne emissions throughout the town.

Lead causes a range of health effects, but primarily effects neurological development in children resulting in reduced school performance, lower scores on standardized tests (such as IQ), mental retardation and can even cause death. A significant portion of those tested by the Ministry of health should have received immediate medical attention to remove lead from the body, but no follow-up was ever initiated.

To plan for remediation and to examine the potential for ongoing exposure from the lead and other metals already deposited in La Oroya, further testing of dust lead levels inside homes was required. We therefore brought the equipment and supplies and trained our partners at the AsociaciĆ³n Civil Labor to collect dust wipe samples. We then arranged for half the samples to be analyzed at a laboratory in the U.S. as a donated service. After obtaining the results, we worked with our Peruvian partners to prepare a report, and conduct education and outreach about the health risks associated with the exposure to lead and other pollutants.

Full report in PDF format: [English] [Spanish]
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thompson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  have been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.