Contrary to popular belief, large multinational corporations are NOT the worst pollution problems. That was one of the more interesting findings revealed in our 2011 World’s Worst Toxic Pollution Problems report.
Of course large corporations are associated with pollution, like the well-documented case of the Renco Group and their Doe Run refinery, blamed for not doing enough to deal with the big lead pollution problem at their smelter in La Oroya, Peru.
But if you look at the data we’ve been collecting from thousands of hotspots we’ve assessed as part of our global inventory of polluted sites, you will see that there are just as many smaller polluting sites. And in terms of public health, poorly regulated small-scale operations like artisanal mining and backyard metal recycling have the greatest impact globally.
Most large corporations, thanks to the efforts of tireless advocates, tend to behave as they work at managing pollution (and their image) in what is essentially a very polluting industry.
When Renco bought the previously state-run smelter in 1997, they took over one of the most toxic enterprises. Over ten years, they have spent as much as $30 million on pollution mitigation. They have put in water treatment, tailings management, and other controls, and were in the process of replacing the primary smelter with lower polluting and lower sulfur technologies. [Read an update of Doe Run/La Oroya's problems in Crain's New York]
Frankly, the main hope for La Oroya is if Renco/Doe Run Peru is given the chance to finish the job and complete the installation of new equipment.
They’ve been shut down by politics, the weak economy and also litigation. The town’s livelihood has been adversely affected because the plant is not operating but in the long term, if the plant is to reopen, new equipment must be installed.
Regardless of news reports, the company has shown a lot of good faith. And for things to change, people need to work together.
With a new government in place in Peru, I hope common sense will prevail and Renco/Doe Run Peru will be able to install new equipment and finally continue the cleanup of La Oroya.