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Protecting the health of La Oroya's residents from toxic pollution

For just under a century, a metal smelter has spewed toxic clouds full of heavy metals over the densely populated city of La Oroya, in the Peruvian Andes. Nearly all the city’s residents have lead and other heavy metals in their blood, and many residents suffer chronic respiratory illness.

If internationally accepted health standards were enforced, the people of La Oroya would receive immediate, intensive medical attention. Yet most do not, and the few who do receive inadequate care. Because lead inhibits brain development, the children of La Oroya are in the most vulnerable situation and will likely be affected for life.

The Peruvian State has failed to comply with its obligation to protect the right to a healthy environment and the health of the population of La Oroya by failing to adequately regulate, supervise and oversee the metallurgical complex.

AIDA became involved with La Oroya in 1998, and we have since used varied strategies to protect public health, the environment and the rights of its residents. AIDA’s 2002 publication, La Oroya Cannot Wait, helped kick-start the far-reaching international campaign to make La Oroya's problems visible and demand measures to remedy them. Through media outreach and by providing technical and legal information, we have educated government agencies and the affected community about the contamination and health problems in the city.

Despite calls for action from national courts and international authorities, the responsible parties—including the Peruvian government, and the foundry owners: Doe Run Peru and its parent corporation, the U.S.-based Renco Group—have been unwilling to respond with appropriate vigor or urgency.

Although certain environmental improvements have been made and a health center provides some assistance to the affected people we represent, much more remains to be done.

What AIDA is doing: 

  • AIDA uses international law in its effort to compel the government to: adequately regulate, supervise and oversee the smelter's operations in order to guarantee the individual and collective right of the inhabitants of La Oroya to enjoy a healthy environment and to limit public exposure to toxic contamination; assume responsibility for the human rights violations caused to the people of La Oroya; and educate residents about health risks.
  • Since 2005, AIDA has represented residents of La Oroya before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2007, in response to our request, the Commission granted precautionary measures to prevent harm to the health, integrity and lives of the people of La Oroya. In 2016, the Commission extended the scope of the precautionary measures to 14 individuals. We have continually updated the Commission with evidence that the Peruvian Government has failed to comply with the precautionary measures.
  • In addition, on December 27, 2006, AIDA filed a complaint with the Commission regarding the Peruvian State’s violation of the human rights of the people of La Oroya.
  • In October 2021, 15 years after the process began, the Commission made a decision on the merits of the case, referring it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Their ruling established the international responsibility of the Peruvian State in the violation of the human rights of La Oroya residents. Together with our allies, we are working to ensure that this historic opportunity results in the reparation of the rights of affected people and the establishment of a legal precedent for the protection of the right to a healthy environment in the region.

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