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Leaded blood: is the Cerro de Pasco community left out?

By Stefany Ildefonso


Cerro de Pasco On January 17th, 2017, the Ministry of Health of Peru invited the community of Cerro de Pasco to discuss a problem that has been going on for decades. Cerro de Pasco is a village located in the mountains where houses are built around a mine. Due to the presence of this mine and the lack of guidelines and law inforcement for the mining industry, individuals are now dealing with the consequences of this practice. Parents witness their children fainting and showing other symptoms of lead contamination: “Do you know what it feels like to regularly see your daughter faint while having breakfast and feel powerless about it?” Indeed, blood lead levels found in children living in this area can reach up to 4 times the acceptable level set by the Centre for Disease control and prevention standards (CDC 2017). The community has shown significant concern about this issue that affects everyone as they have noticed changes in children, animals, food, water and the environment in general. Because this issue has been going on for years, continuous pressure from community members and NGOs has finally reached politicians.

Cerro de Pasco mural Cerro de Pasco mural, by Lorena MenduiñaAnd so, now what? This issue was already known. It was not a matter of awareness. Has the government left out these people? Why hasn’t something been done about it? The complexity of this issue requires participation from industry, the community, environmental scientists and politicians from several ministries. It not only affects human health, but also has unavoidable permanent consequences on the ecosystem. To add another level of complexity, malnutrition can make individuals more susceptible to absorbing lead, therefore increasing the probability of developing symptoms such as anemia. Considering that 43% of children suffered from anemia in the Pasco department – and acknowledging that anemia can be caused by several factors - we can agree that this a major public health issue (INEI, 2012). Some individuals would intuitively think that these people could move somewhere else to stop being constantly exposed to environmental pollution, but it is not that simple. One must consider the socio-economic context and the value attributed to the land, among other factors. Because a single intervention will not be sufficient to tackle this issue, an ecohealth approach including interventions from different perspectives could be beneficial in this context.

The very first meeting demonstrated an expression of interest to move forward with concrete actions, however, as of May 15th, 2018, the situation remains the same…


Centres for disease control and prevention. (2017). What do parents need to know to protect their children?

Fraser, Barbara (2016). Swallowed by a mine: residents of a city in Peru live with the lingering effects of sprawling, toxic lead mine. Science World/Current science, 5 Sept. 2016, p. 14+.

Instituto nacional de estadística e informática. (2012). Encuesta demográfica y de salud familiar – Departamento de Pasco.

National geographic. (2015). High in the Andes, a mine eats a 400-year old city.

World Health Organization. (2010). Exposure to lead: a major public health concern.