Toxic Mining Waste Hits River

Six days after a barge carrying oil from the Amazon fields of Argentina´s Pluspetrol dumped 400 gallons of crude into the important Marañón River, a new environmental disaster hit Peru.

On June 25, a tailings dam in the central Andean department of Huancavelica –the poorest in Peru – collapsed, spilling around 450 metric tons of mining wastes into the Totorapampa and Opamayo Rivers in the villages of Huachocolpa and Lircay, home to some 30,000 campesino families.

Residents in Lircay staged a small strike on July 7, to demand that the company, Peruvian zinc-lead miner Caudalosa Chica, clean up the damage.

Villagers in the area use the river water for their livestock, household consumption and for agriculture, and they were only alerted several days after the spill of what had occurred and the potential damage that heavy metals in the river could cause.

“This is a criminal attack because by not being informed, the villagers have consumed trout poisoned with lead and other toxic metals,” the Andean Coordinating Group of Indigenous Organizations said in a statement. “Also, the animals had been drinking that contaminated water.”

Alfredo Dammert, president of the energy and mining regulatory agency known as OSINERGMIN, told a press conference in June that the government had reviewed two of the company´s mineral deposits and had ordered one to shut because it was in disrepair.

The company could receive a fine equivalent to US$13.1 million if the agency finds the miner was negligent.

On July 6, the company said it had cleaned 30 percent of the Escalera and Opamayo Rivers and that there had not been any reports of intoxications in local health centers.

In a statement, nongovernmental organization CooperAcción said: “These lamentable events suggest the need to review the criteria, public policies and [the need to] end the predominant scheme of private self-regulation.”

The organization called for greater regulation and tighter controls over this and other extractive industries.

 

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