La Oroya, Peru Pollution Puts New York Billionaire in Legal Crosshairs

Ira Rennert, a New York billionaire, is facing a possible lawsuit over pollution in Peru. According to The New York Post, as many as 3,000 Peruvian kids are suffering from blood poisoning allegedly caused by a lead-smelting operation in the town of La Oroya that Rennert has invested in.

That operation, Doe Run Peru, was purchased by Rennert’s Renco Group from the Peruvian government in 1997. In 2006, La Oroya was named one of the 10 most polluted areas in the world by the Blacksmith Institute, an environmental organization in New York.

When Doe Run acquired the La Oroya Metallurgical Complex in 1997, the company agreed to modernize the plant and bring emissions down to acceptable levels by 2006. While Doe Run took some steps to reduce some pollutants, it never built the promised sulfuric acid plant which would significantly reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. In fact, Doe Run requested and received numerous extensions from the Peruvian government to meet the deadlines contained in the original environmental remediation and management agreement.

According to an article in the St. Louis Dispatch, the La Oroya Metallurgical Complex generated annual discharges of roughly 32 tons of lead, 36 tons of poisonous arsenic and 69,000 tons of the toxic metal cadmium into the nearby Mantaro River. Between 2002 and 2004, lead emissions through the main smokestack at La Oroya increased by 33 percent.

“If you are going to participate in the global economy, you have to be globally responsible. You can’t treat people in Third World countries like they are nothing,” Michael Hugo, an attorney with the law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, told The New York Post during a phone interview from Peru. Parker Waichman Alonso LLP is one of a team of New York and Peruvian law firms investigating the La Oroya catastrophe.

Hugo said the average measurement of lead in the blood of La Oroya’s children is 32 micrograms per deciliter of blood – “off the charts” by American standards. Some of the Peruvian children have lead levels as high as 70, he said.

Five milligrams of lead per deciliter can cause intellectual impairment, the Post said.

Help with possible legal claims involving Doe Run Peru is available here.

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