Doe Run Smelter in Peru Loses Environmental Certification

Children living near smelter contaminated with high levels of lead


Anna Cederstav, Ph.D., AIDA and Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700
Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director, OK International, (415) 362-9898

Doe Run Peru, which operates one of the largest metal-smelters in the western hemisphere, has lost its Environmental Certification in a highly unusual move taken by the company’s independent third-party auditors. TUV Rheinland initially granted the certification less than two years ago, but revoked it March 11, 2008 citing non-compliance with Peruvian environmental laws and the lack of adequate pollution prevention measures.

The loss of the certification comes on the heels of a $234,000 US fine imposed last year against Doe Run Peru for several serious violations of environmental laws in Peru. This week, Peruvian authorities released a report detailing those violations, including noncompliance with the standards for lead and particulate matter.

Doe Run Peru obtained the environmental certification under ISO 14001 in 2006 calling it a “significant milestone in delivering on our commitments to our communities, our employees and the environment.” The Doe Run Company’s web site calls the ISO certification an “internationally recognized symbol of a company’s dedication to superior quality, customer satisfaction and continuous improvement.”

Nevertheless, a number of studies conducted by the government as well as international health experts have shown that almost all of the children living in the area surrounding Doe Run Peru’s smelter have unacceptably high levels of lead in their bodies. Many are severely exposed and require immediate medical treatment.

“TUV Rheinland acted responsibly in taking this unprecedented action to underscore the need for Doe Run Peru to do more to protect public health in La Oroya,” said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge International (USA).

“Revoking the certification should send a strong message to Doe Run that they have much more work to do,” said Anna Cederstav, staff scientist with AIDA and Earthjustice, and author of the book La Oroya Cannot Wait. “Nevertheless, we are still concerned that, if paid enough, another certifying body will agree to provide Doe Run with a similar certification,” she added.

In 2006, several organizations filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, seeking a recommendation that the Peruvian government implement urgent measures to halt the grave violations against the health and lives of the citizens of La Oroya. Last year, the Commission agreed and requested that the state implement such precautionary measures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 120 million people are overexposed to lead (approximately three times the number infected by HIV/AIDS) and 99 percent of the most severely affected reside in the developing world. Lead affects both children and adults and causes brain damage, metal retardation, and other learning disabilities in children. In addition to lead, the population of La Oroya is also exposed to extreme levels of other harmful contaminants, including arsenic, cadmium, and sulfur dioxide.

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