Doe Run, La Oroya, Peru
Located in La Oroya, Peru, Doe Run Peru (DRP) is the largest lead smelter in the country. Children’s blood lead levels (BLLs) have been monitored by Peruvian health authorities, Direccion General de Salud Ambiental, DRP, and international collaborators such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for years. In 1999, BLLs of 346 children aged 2-10 years ranged from 6.9 to 79.9 µg/dl (mean= 33.6 µg/dl). Blood lead concentrations in certain school zones averaged as high as 55 µg/dl and were associated with distance from the smelter. In 2004-05, CDC found average BLLs of 30 children to be 41.8 µg/dl. In 2007, DRP initiated street cleaning operations, food supplementation programs, emissions controls, and local health programs to address environmental lead exposures.
In 2008, TIFO representatives were invited to La Oroya by DRP representatives to observe efforts in emission reduction and health intervention. The goal of the investigation was to provide an independent review of industrial operations for the Peruvian government. The team reviewed existing reports, collected samples, and met with representatives of local NGOs, the Peruvian government, Doe Run, church leaders, and government health officials.
The team found that significant reductions in BLLs and air lead concentrations had been achieved, though there was not enough information to determine which specific actions triggered the reductions. Reductions could have been a result of sanitary controls in the smelter, fugitive dust control measures in the community, attention to housing and hygiene factors in the community, health intervention and treatment efforts, or a combination of these efforts.
However, given the terrain, meteorological and socio-economic challenges, proximity of poor families to the immediate area of the complex, and the legacy contamination from historic operations, reducing BLLs to acceptable criteria remained unlikely. There were concerns as to whether the air quality criteria are protective, and whether the emission reductions achieved are sufficient and sustainable. There is also a need to remediate legacy contamination. Many of the pollution reduction measures exercised at the complex were not permanent. There was concern as to whether DRP would continue the intervention programs at the level of effort observed during the investigation. The team concluded that BLLs would decrease under the observed program, but not sufficiently, and recommended long-term biological and environmental monitoring.