My photo story about a 400-year old Peruvian city being devoured by an open-pit mine was published on Dec. 2 by National Geographic. I spent two months in the high Andes city of Cerro de Pasco documenting the wounded land and poisoned children effected by irresponsible mining practices. The mine is run by Volcan and its local subsidiary Cerro SAC. In 2011, the Volcan mining company made a profit of $328 million, yet the average family in Cerro de Pasco has scant access to clean water and many live in close proximity to lead-laced mine tailings. Local children have tested with extremely high levels of lead in their blood, causing learning disabilities, seizures and occasionally death.
Below is an extract of the accompanying article by Dr. Tony Dajer. You can read the whole story on the Nat Geo site.
CERRO DE PASCO, Peru—For a woman intent on moving an entire city, fifty-six-year old Congresswoman Gloria Ramos Prudencio, barely five feet tall, looks unassuming. Her city is Cerro de Pasco, population 70,000. Perched on the treeless Peruvian altiplano at 14,200 feet, it’s one of the highest cities on the planet.
“As a girl, walking past Bellavista, where the Americans lived, I would pester my mother, ‘Why do the gringos get the nice houses?’ ” the soft-spoken Ramos recalls. “In school my teachers called me preguntona”— she of too many questions.
These days, her main question is how to save her hometown from a very big hole.
Latin America over the past decade has seen its mining sector triple in value to $300 billion. Peru’s economy, among the fastest growing, derives one-sixth of its gross domestic product from minerals. At Cerro de Pasco, you can see the entire history of Peruvian mining —and the costs it sometimes imposes: The mine here is literally consuming the 400-year-old town that supports it.
The open-pit mine operated by a subsidiary of Volcan Compañía Minera, a Peruvian company, is a crater terraced like an inverted ziggurat. Over a mile long by a half-mile wide by a quarter-mile deep, it laps at the retreating town like a hungry sea. A line of abandoned houses, their steel roof tiles rusting and pockmarked, serves as a no-man’s-land between the chasm and the living city.
That barrier is not enough to protect the inhabitants, especially the children, from the mine’s toxins. Cerro de Pasco is one of the worst lead-poisoning clusters in the world.