Peru failing to take care of indigenous peoples exposed to toxic metals

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, May 18 (EFE).- The Peruvian government is failing in its obligation to guarantee the right to health care for hundreds indigenous K’ana People in Espinar province, who are exposed to high levels of metals and toxic substances, according to a report presented on Tuesday by Amnesty International (AI).

Gerson Lopez, a young member of the Alto Huancane indigenous community, suffers from frequent nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting and cramps, all symptoms that doctors have been unable to explain but which he associates with the high levels of metals they detected in his body a decade ago when he was 12.

“(The doctors) only gave us a checkup and didn’t tell us anything about how to cure or prevent (exposure to toxic metals). They’ve turned their backs on us,” Lopez told EFE.

Like him, hundreds of other members of the K’ana People have been complaining for years about how the Peruvian state has abandoned them in the face of a health crisis affecting Espinar province, in the Andean region of Cusco, where 78 percent of the inhabitants have high levels of metals and toxic substances in their bodies.

These are among the findings in the report titled “Failed State of Health,” this urges the authorities to design and implement – with the full participation of the indigenous communities – an emergency plan that determines how toxic substances have come to be in the bodies of Espinar residents.

“These communities have been denied a basic element of the right to health. They have the right to know what the source of their exposure to metals and toxic substances is and identifying it is a responsibility of the Peruvian state,” Maria Jose Veramendi, an AI researcher and the author of the study, told EFE.

Only in this way, she added, will the area cease being “one more example of the failed state of health care” in Peru, where estimates are that there are more than 10 million people, 31 percent of the population, at risk of exposure to heavy metals and other chemical substances.

The AI study was carried out in 11 indigenous communities located in the area affected by the Coroccohuayco mining project, an extension of the Antapaccay mine operated by the Swiss firm Glencore.

Blood and urine samples were taken from 150 volunteers and testing showed that almost 80 percent of those people had toxic metals and other substances at higher than allowed values in their systems.

Specifically, 58 percent had elevated levels of arsenic, 29 percent had too much magnesium, 12 percent had too much cadmium and 4 percent had too much lead and 3 percent too much mercury.

Some residents reported neurological symptoms like fatigue, headaches, cramps and vomiting, while others has respiratory, digestive, ocular, cardiovascular, rheumatic and dental symptoms, among others.

“Even if we can’t say these symptoms are a direct consequence of exposure (to toxic substances), we can say that this puts the people at risk of having a series of illnesses,” said Veramendi, who insisted that the scientific evidence shows the damage to public health in this case.

The study also analyzed 292 water sources in the area, testing 191 of them for coliform bacteria and found those harmful bacteria in 151 of the samples.

Although the scientific evidence for the presence of metals and other toxic substances in the environment and their impact on human health in Espinar is still “incomplete and insufficient,” Peru in recent months has made significant legislative progress in this area.

For instance, in 2020 the Cusco Superior Court of Justice ordered the Health Ministry to implement an emergency health plan for Espinar, and Veramendi said that this was a “very important first step” ini response “to the pressure and demands of the communities for their rights.”

And earlier this month, Law 31189 was passed to “strengthen” prevention, mitigation and attention to health affected by contamination with heavy metals and other chemical substances.


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