Something's very wrong here," said Esther Hinostroza. "It's the children."
Hinostroza was calling from her Peruvian town of La Oroya, speaking with members of the Joining Hands Network of Peru. The group is composed of 15 Peruvian evangelical churches and Christian nonprofits and 19 Presbyterian congregations in Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio, who together seek to bring aid and development to Peru's poor. We welcomed Hinostroza's plea, but our organization was only two years old. The network wasn't prepared to take on an international corporation, whose factory, we would discover, was polluting the town, causing the children of La Oroya to become seriously ill.
Hinostroza is a women's leader in the evangelical church of Peru, as well as director of a small nonprofit group that focuses on maternal-child health issues in the city of La Oroya. She called the network in January 2002, begging members to see firsthand some of the children's health problems. The children complained of headaches, difficulty concentrating in school, and fatigue. Members of Joining Hands agreed to come see for themselves.
La Oroya is home to a large metal ore smelter, owned by the Doe Run Company of St. Louis. When members of Joining Hands arrived and traveled with Hinostroza to the village, they were shocked. The antiquated smelter emits more than 1,000 tons of toxic emissions each day. Employees say nothing about the pollution for fear of losing their jobs. Often, the city's children cannot play outdoors because of the smelter's emissions.
Pastors from the network met a seven-year-old boy named Javier; he complained of intense headaches, lethargy, and problems in school. His parents worried that the city's heavy metal contamination caused a growing curvature ...