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Peruvian smelter loses environmental certification
Red Uniendo Manos
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Religious community calls for compliance.

One of the largest metal smelters in the hemisphere, owned by US company Doe Run Peru and located in central city La Oroya, lost its environmental certification in a highly unusual move taken on March 11 by the company’s third-party auditors, TUV Rheinland — the same German auditor that approved the smelter two years ago.

According to OK International, Earthjustice and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) — non-profit groups that work to protect public health from industrial pollutants and to provide legal aid in environmental cases, often dealing with the extraction of natural resources — TUV Rheinland cited non-compliance with Peruvian environmental laws and the lack of adequate pollution controls as its rationale for revoking certification.

When Doe Run Peru obtained environmental certification in 2006 by TUV Rheinland, it called the document an “internationally recognized symbol of a company’s dedication to superior quality, customer satisfaction and continuous improvement” on its website.

However, last year Doe Run paid more than US$230,000 in fines for infractions on environmental laws.

A number of studies conducted by the government, as well as international health experts, have shown that almost all of the children living in the area surrounding Doe Run’s smelter have high levels of lead in their bodies.

In fact, an investigation carried out by the Health Ministry in 2004 found that 99.9 percent of 788 children younger than 6 years in La Oroya Antigua, the urban area closest to the smelter, had blood lead levels higher than the 10 micrograms per deciliter permitted by the World Health Organization, which experts claim is even too high for children.

Moral and ethical reasons
The Regional Roundtable on Environment in the Junin department, a coalition of Peruvian religious leaders and grass roots activists, are pushing the company to protect La Oroya’s residents and its environment for moral and ethical reasons. It also seeks greater financial openness since profits may be used to complete the necessary environmental improvements.

“The care for life and the environment is of unavoidable urgency for every person and community. Humanity has been entrusted with the environment, which is an inheritance given by God as a common home that we should care for and protect,” said Monsignor Pedro Barreto, Archbishop of Huancayo and president of the Junin Roundtable on Environment, which is pressing the company to comply with environmental standards.

In 2006, the Peruvian government granted the company an additional three-and-one-half-year extension to fulfill the obligations of its ten year-old environmental operations agreement, until October 2009.

“Revoking the certification should send a strong message to Doe Run that they have much more work to do,” said Anna Cederstav, staff scientist with AIDA and Earthjustice and author of the book, La Oroya Cannot Wait. “Nevertheless, we are still concerned that, if paid enough, another certifying body will agree to provide Doe Run with a similar certification.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States has requested that the Peruvian government implement urgent measures to halt violations against the health of the citizens of La Oroya.

Elias Szczytnicki, regional director of Religions for Peace in Lima, said the religious community’s efforts to bring the company into environmental compliance is not aimed at hurting profits, but improving operations. “This is not good news,” he said of the decertification. “This is bad news for us. Our interest is not to hurt the business. This news demonstrates that the health of the people continues running a great risk.”

”The ideal news,” he added, “would be that the company receives several environmental certificates so that the people could live healthy lives.”

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