WASHINGTON (CNS) — A coffin sat in mining and metallurgical company Doe Run’s closed factory with Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno’s name on it. This is not the first death threat he has received in response to his vocal protests about the planned reopening of a highly toxic smelter in La Oroya, Peru, the archbishop said July 19 in Washington. The head of the Archdiocese of Huancayo, Peru, testified at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The hearing, led by the subcommittee chairman Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., featured testimonies from Archbishop Barreto, an Oxfam Peru representative, an environmental researcher and a member of the La Oroya community. Also present were Reps. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Russ Carnahan, D-Mo.
The La Oroya smelting factory, which closed in 2009, has contaminated the region with toxic levels of lead, cadmium, and arsenic. Ninety-seven percent of children had dangerous levels of lead in their blood, researcher Fernando Serrano said during his testimony. He said only eight of the streams in the entire Mantaro watershed remain relatively uncontaminated. The watershed is the largest in Peru, and Serrano expressed fears that the country’s crops and livestock also will be contaminated. Serrano, who is principal investigator of the St. Louis University School of Public Health, said levels of toxicity in the region could decrease with cleanup funding.