Glencore has its copper mining operations there.
Credit: Ojo Público
Over a decade ago, leaders from various Quechua communities in the area called for a thorough investigation which would allow them to identify the source of higher than recommended levels of metals that studies had found in the environment and some people. One of these reports, regularly cited by the inhabitants of Espinar, is a 2020 official study by the Ministry for Health (Minsa)’s National Centre for Occupational Health and Environmental Protection for Health (Censopas), which identified the presence of toxic metals in several people. Also, a scientific study carried out by Amnesty International in collaboration with the organisation Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras found high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and manganese in the blood and urine samples of 117 people from Espinar (Cusco).
On 23 March 2021 and in the midst of the pandemic, a technical, cross-sector team, led by representatives from the Ministry of Environment, began fieldwork to collect data at 91 points in the 13 Quechua communities which are also areas of influence for the Coroccohuayco mine, an extension of Antapaccay, operated by Glencore. Their objective is to produce a report with detailed analysis of water and soil quality. During the cross-sector commission’s research, the president of the Pacopata community, Felipe Kama Chuctaya, complained of the impact of extractive mining. “Here, in this project, there are more than 600 drilling holes in the ground. Some of these have dried up our wetlands. Because of this drilling the quality of water has been affected. We drink this water”, he said (1).
Credit: Somos periodismo
Related to the Amnesty International and Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras report, The investigation, conducted between 2018 and 2020 and published in May 2021, was based on the analysis of 150 samples from volunteers belonging to the eleven indigenous communities of the region. The communities have found themselves in the area of influence of the Antapaccay Expansión Tintaya mine, owned by Anglo-Swiss company Glencore. Of these samples, 88 people were found to have high levels of arsenic, 44 had high levels of manganese, 19 cadmium, 7 lead and 3 mercury. In addition, 14 people showed high levels of contamination of more than one of these metals. (2)
In interviews these volunteers expressed having symptoms of chronic fatigue; cramps; nausea; pain in their lungs, bones and kidneys; rectal ulcers; blindness; prostate issues; and cancerous tumours. Scientific evidence on the health risks of exposure to these metals indicates that they are toxic for the body, even at low levels, and can cause damage to the skin, lungs, kidneys and nervous system (3) .
The report noted the need for further investigation to determine the source of the metals found in this group of people. It also recommended regular monitoring of the area due its potential exposure to the harmful effects of mining waste. In an inspection carried out in 2013, the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Body (OEFA) also warned of the danger presented by the Antapaccay company’s pipelines, which were flowing into wetlands.
By Javiera Martinez and Holly Jones