More than 100 local residents were sickened by a spill of toxic copper concentrate at one of Peru’s biggest mines Aug. 3. The Áncash regional health office said 140 people were treated for “irritative symptoms caused by the inhalation of toxins” after a pipeline carrying the concentrate under high pressure burst open in the village of Santa Rosa de Cajacay. Most of those affected had joined in efforts to prevent liquid copper slurry from reaching the nearby Río Fortaleza after the pipe linking the Antamina copper mine to the coast ruptured last week, said village mayor Hilario Morán. “Without taking into account the consequences, we pitched in to help,” Morán told the Associated Press by phone. The people used absorbent fabric provided by the mine but were not given gloves or protective masks, admitted the mine’s environmental director Antonio Mendoza. Shortly afterward, people became ill, vomiting, suffering headaches and nose bleeds.
“That’s unethical and irresponsible and they should know better,” said Greg Moller, a professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at the University of Idaho-Washington State University. But Mendoza downplayed the incident, saying: “It’s a dangerous substance to the extent that it’s an industrial substance. They are dangerous substances that require a particular handling but aren’t necessarily toxic.”
Moller disputed that characterization. “This was actually a toxic episode and these people are intoxicated,” he said, adding that the alkaline copper concentrate likely damaged lung tissue, causing chemical burns. (AP, Aug. 3; Servindi, July 26)
In the days after the spill, the Antamina company website was hacked by Anonymous, the company’s content replaced with the message “Hacked by LulzsecPeru,” with a caricatured image of a corporate fat-cat with top-hat, monacle and raised wine glass. (RPP, Aug. 4)
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Mine-affected campesinos have elevated levels of metal in blood
Since the copper concentrate spill at Santa Rosa de Cajacay, studies carried out by Peru’s National Health Institute have found elevated levels of copper, lead and arsenic in the blood of the community’s 285 residents in comparison to that of neighboring communities. (La Republica, July 31)