ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION IN THE HOMES OF LA OROYA AND CONCEPCION AND ITS EFFECTS IN THE HEALTH OF COMMUNITY RESIDENTS
A study conducted by the Saint Louis University School of Public Health in partnership with the Archdiocese of Huancayo, Peru
The School of Public Health at Saint Louis University has conducted a scientific study entitled“Environmental Contamination in the Homes of La Oroya and Concepcion, Peru, and its Effects in the Health of Community Residents.” The purpose of this study is to determine the levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic and other toxic elements in the bodies of residents and in their homes. This study was requested by the Archdiocese of Huancayo, Peru, and was approved by the Peruvian HealthMinistry and Saint Louis University Institutional Review Board. It complies with all applicable norms and regulations in United States and Peru. This is a comparative study between a study site and a control site. La Oroya was selected as the study site because of the serious levels of environmental contamination from lead, arsenic, cadmium and other contaminants produced by the Doe Run-ownedmetallurgical complex. The ambient contamination caused by these toxic metals has been documented. Concepción was selected as the control site because it has similar characteristics to La Oroya but does not have a metallurgical complex and, therefore, hypothetically, is unlikely to have levels of contamination as serious as those in La Oroya. La Oroya is a town of 35,000 inhabitants located in the PeruvianAndes in an area rich in lead, copper, zinc, silver, and gold. The extraction and smelting of these metals has been La Oroya primary economic activity for decades. La Oroya mining complex was owned and operated by the Peruvian government until 1997 when it was sold to the Doe Run Co., the largest producer of lead in the U.S. with headquarters in Missouri. La Oroya mining complex is now known asDoe Run Peru. Several studies have documented the severe environmental contamination caused by the mining industry in La Oroya. For instance, in 1999 the Peruvian Ministry of Health found that 99.1% of children suffered from lead poisoning and that 20% of these children needed urgent medical care due to the extremely high blood lead levels. Also, a 2002 report entitled “La Oroya Cannot Wait”described the very serious levels of ambient contamination of air, soil, and water in La Oroya. The findings in this report indicate that over 80% of blood lead levels in La Oroya children were two and three times greater than the level of concern of 10 µg/dl established by the CDC in the U.S. In addition, the report found that arsenic, cadmium, suspended particles, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) exceedinternational acceptable levels and pose serious health risks to the community. The toxicity of lead, cadmium and arsenic has been scientifically established and is well documented in the medical and public health literature. The studies mentioned above provide important information of the extent of the environmental contamination affecting La Oroya and blood lead levels in the population. However,there was
no evidence on levels of cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals and toxic elements associated with the mining and smelting operations in residents and in their homes. The goal of this study is to provide this evidence to Peruvian authorities, concerned organizations, and community residents with the hope that it helps them make better decisions to prevent exposure to toxic metals,protect the public’s health and promote environmental protection. In August 2005 Saint Louis University reseachers teamed up with Peruvian physicians and research assistants to collect biological and environmental samples to determine levels of contamination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, analyzed the biological samples and provided the first results of the levels of...