Government Tests in Corrientes River Basin Reveal Life-Threateningly High Levels of Contaminants

Peru’s Ministry of the Environment has finally published the long-awaited results of environmental testing in the Corrientes River basin in the Loreto Region of Northern Peruvian Amazonia. The findings are distressing: dangerously, even life-threateningly high levels of hydrocarbons and heavy metals in the soil and water of Achuar indigenous communities situated in the Corrientes.

On August 2, the Ministry of the Environment handed indigenous federation FECONACO (the Federation of Native Communites of the Corrientes) analyses of almost one hundred samples taken and tested from oil concessions 192 (formerly 1-AB) and 8, both of which overlap indigenous territories.

Samples taken by the National Water Authority revealed that levels of cadmium in sediments exceeds international environmental standards. Cadmium, an extremely toxic heavy metal, negatively affects human kidney, skeletal, and respiratory systems, and is classified as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. In 22 of its 29 samples of sediments and water, the National Water Authority also discovered that levels of TPH (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons)–the mixture of hydrocarbons found in crude oil–also surpass international environmental standards. Additionally, tests confirmed the presence of barium, zinc, and arsenic in water and sediments, in alarming quantities.

The Agency of Environmental Evaluation and Control (OEFA) was tasked with testing soil in the river basin. OEFA discovered TPH, barium and lead in quantities that exceed permitted levels. Peruvian Energy and Mining Regulatory Commission (OSINERGMIN) released a statement denouncing Pluspetrol, the oil company currently operating in the concessions, for failing to comply with safety regulations governing the transportation of hydrocarbons.

The results reveal a situation dismayingly similar to the disastrous oil contamination found when the agencies tested the Pastaza River basin last year.  When the results of those tests were published in February, the levels of oil related toxic compounds were so concerning that they induced the Peruvian government to declare an environmental state of emergency in the river basin.

With scientific confirmation of the public health crisis their communities are facing in hand, the Apus, or community leaders, that form FECONACO are saying “without remediation there won’t be a prior consultation.” In other words, if the government doesn’t adequately remediate the indigenous territories, the indigenous federations will refuse to participate in the prior consultation negotiations required for the government to auction off Concession 192 when Pluspetrol’s lease expires in 2015.

Peru’s Prior Consultation Law requires free, prior, and informed consultation with indigenous peoples before measures are enacted or projects developed that will impact their ancestral territory or threaten the rights listed in the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 (the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Convention).

FECONACO released a statement that reads, “No more legal excuses to protect oil companies. We want a government that’s present, we want a government that’s on our side, that’s prepared to defend life and the environment.”

Read the reports below:

  • Summary OEFA report
  • DIGESA report
  • National Water Authority (ANA) report
  • OSINERGMIN report

Deborah Rivett, Friday, 09 August 2013

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