Peru Gives US-Owned Smelter More Time to Clean Up

Occasionally we get updates about stories we’ve done. Here’s one we thought we’d pass along.

In early 2007 Homelands produced a profile of Pedro Córdoba Valdivieso, a metal worker in Peru who was suffering from an incurable lung ailment. Córdoba worked for a giant American-owned smelter called Doe Run in the Andean town of La Oroya. The Blacksmith Institute has rated La Oroya among the ten most polluted places in the world.

When Doe Run bought the smelter from the Peruvian government in 1997, it committed to a ten-year program to cut down on toxic emissions. By most accounts, the company has done much of what it agreed to do. But around the time we reported the story, Doe Run was lobbying the government for more time to complete a plant that would reduce the smelter’s sulfur dioxide emissions. Peru eventually agreed to give the company until October 2009 to finish the work. Early this year, pleading poverty, Doe Run asked that the deadline be extended again.

Peru said no. The company then shut down for three months and sent all its workers home. In late September, after demonstrations by Doe Run employees anxious to get back to work, Peru’s congress cried uncle, granting the company another 30 months to complete the sulfur dioxide plant. The fear was that insisting that Doe Run keep its word would jeopardize 20,000 jobs. It’s a Hobson’s choice that is sadly familiar to poor countries, poor communities and poor people everywhere.

We wish we could tell you more about Pedro Córdoba’s condition. But we do have an update on another WORKING profilee: the Kenyan runner Salina Kosgei. Kosgei, who won the Boston Marathon in April 2009, ran in the ING New York City Marathon on November 1. She tripped and fell early in the race but still ended up finishing fifth. Congratulations, Salina!