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October 3rd, 2008
03:57 PM ET

Protecting children from heavy metals in Peru

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows how people in La Oroya, Peru, try to reduce exposure to arsenic, lead and other heavy metals thrown off by an American-owned smelter. Health and environmental groups have filed a petition urging the Peruvian government take urgent action to protect people from illnesses and death.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Tom Kruzen

    Sanjay,
    Doe Run was supposed to upgrade the smelter and clean up eleven years ago. They are famous for delaying clean-ups, upgrading and only do those things when they are pressured to do so. This has been their modus operandi in the US and and Peru. They are still spilling lead concentrate all over Missouri and their Herculaneum smelter still belches out sulfur dioxide and heavy metals. Only when citizens expose the problems does the government force Doe Run to do the right thing. Think of all the money Doe Run would save and the lives that could be saved if they had done things right in the first place!

    October 4, 2008 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Maria Supple

    I was born in Lima, when I traveled to Arequipa, which is a high altitude city we went to a Club to dance the first night, and that night I feel dying, with the sickness. They toog me to the emergency room thet night. Then
    I was told by experienced people there, that when you travel to a high altitude city, the first night you have to rest and take it easy on the first day so the next day when you get up up you will adjust perfectly to the new atmosphere there. I followed this advise on my following trip when I visited Cuzco. I felt wonderful, I could hike and have some matte de coca too. It was a great experience to get closer to the stars.

    October 6, 2008 at 02:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. S Callahan

    This is a good post but would have been much better discussing/ informing the public what the heavy metals can do to a person(s) (ie effect on brain, nervous system, lungs, etc)

    October 8, 2008 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ryan

    Dr. Sanjay Gupta,
    I have reported and researched extensively on La Oroya’s health and environmental problems for publications in Peru and I have never met anyone, outside of Doe Run's representative, that actually believes washing the streets and one's hands has a significant impact on the health of the city’s population.

    Besides the well-known statistic that 99 percent of La Oroya's children have lead poisoning, Dr. Victor Hugo, a local physician who has worked in La Oroya for more than 30 years, has recently found that 33 percent of La Oroya’s newborns are poisoned with lead and other heavy metal toxins while still in their mother’s womb. According to Hugo and others, the situation is actually worse now than before Doe Run purchased the smelter.

    Most of the heavy metal poisoning is caused from people inhaling the smelter's toxins, which rains down on the city. Again, washing one's hands is ineffective in this situation. Also, Doe Run uses detergent to wash the street. This actually causes more harm than good – the detergent, along with other toxins, runs into and pollutes the Mantaro River, an important source of water for agriculture in the Mantaro valley (also called Peru's breadbasket). Fruits and vegetables grown in the Mantaro valley sold all over Lima (pop. 8 million) and exported abroad to markets in the U.S.

    So, why wash the streets and one's hands when largely ineffective? Makes for good television on CNN, and helps Doe Run look like they are actually doing something without actually doing anything.

    In my opinion, and that of many others, three actual solutions for La Oroya are:

    1) Chelation therapy for those with lead poisoning. This must be done with solution number 2 or 3 below or it will not be ineffective in the long run.

    2) Physically moving La Oroya. This option is very costly, and neither Peru's government nor Doe Run are willing to pay. As I’m sure you know, many of the city’s residents are simply too poor to pay to leave.

    3) Doe Run Peru cleans up its act and modernizes the smelter to prevent further heavy metal poisoning of La Oroya residents. This is probably the best option, but unfortunately Doe Run has been dragging it’s feet for too long.

    I think you overlooked those points and it needs to be clear that hand washing and street cleaning is largely ineffective in a situation like La Oroya where people are constantly inhaling the toxins.

    All that said, I commend you for traveling to La Oroya and bringing this important issue to CNN’s audience.

    Ryan

    December 11, 2008 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.