Last week, the NGO Cooperacción produced a timely editorial highlighting the continuing conflict in the province of Espinar, in Cusco. Communities there are increasingly frustrated by the continued lack of effective policies to address health concerns over the presence of heavy metals in the bodies of people living close to Glencore’s huge copper mining project Antapaccay – Tintaya expansion – Coroccohuayco integration.

The Cusco-based organisation, Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras (DHSF) has also released a series of articles reflecting some of the most severe concerns, most of which have yet to be addressed effectively. We summarize here the chief concerns.

Polluted water – high levels of toxic metals
In December 2018, the regional health authorities (Dirección Regional de Salud de Cusco, DIRESA) published a report stating that studies had found high levels of metal contamination in potable drinking water. As a result, in February 2019 the Regional and Municipal Councils of Espinar declared a health emergency for 90 days, and the governor of Cusco was asked to liaise with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment to implement the necessary steps to address the problem. However, DIRESA has recently reversed their previous declarations, stating that the water is safe to drink.

DHSF immediately denounced this change in discourse, releasing their own analysis to counter it, and asked DIRESA to clarify these contradictions: “Information of this type, where the health of the population is at stake, has to be used with responsibility, the more so in a place where there are permanent denunciations of water contamination and health concerns, particularly for people living close to the Antapaccay mine….”, DHSF noted.

The latest conclusions from health authorities appear to have come from a ‘mesa tecnica’, or technical working group, formed by a number of ministries and the PCM. It lacked representation from local and regional authorities or grassroots organisations.

Ongoing health concerns
Since the violent protests of 2012, there have been limited efforts to address some of the communities’ grievances, with various official reports that document the presence of heavy metals in the bodies of people living near the mining sites and high levels of contamination found in water sources. The trouble here has been the lack of clear documentation of base lines and the complex data needed to distinguish between natural contamination (from the geology of the rock) and the impact of mining itself.

The state has promised to implement an integral health action plan to provide much needed attention to people at risk of contamination. However, the plans have lacked sufficient resources and the institutional capacity to implement them. According to Cooperacción, worse still is the lack of epidemiological data mapping to identify the areas where the risk of contamination is grave, as well as the lack of data to determine the sources of contamination and the routes of exposure.

The results of a 2015 causality study, led by the agency in charge of environmental oversight, OEFA, have yet to be disclosed. The results of a further study that focuses on the causality of water contamination, led by the Instituto Peruano de Energía Nuclear (IPEN), are also pending.

Modifications to the environmental impact assessment of the Antapaccay project
A further area of concern is the proposed expansion of Glencore’s mining project. SENACE, the department of the Ministry of the Environment charged with environmental certification, is currently evaluating the latest Modification to the Environmental Impact Assessment (MEIA) presented by Glencore in 2018. There are many concerns over the environmental and social impact of the proposed expansion, shared by local communities and SENACE, questioning the design of the project as well as the proposed mitigating measures to counter or prevent potential negative impacts. Communities have also raised concerns about the lack of prior consultation during the process (see PSG article). According to Cooperacción, the proposed modification to the EIA in essence means a whole new mining project: the proposed Coroccohuayco project involves the construction of a new open pit, as well as underground work in communities that will be newly exposed to mining. (See PSG article for comments on the difficulties associated with evolving EIAs)

Cooperacción hopes that SENACE will guarantee effective participation of the affected population in the MEIA process and that a human rights framework is embedded in the present environmental assessment.