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Dennis O'Brien

Dennis O'Brien

Posted: September 30, 2008 01:49 PM

La Oroya: A Poisoned Town, A Billionaire's Profit


La Oroya, Peru is one of the most polluted places on the planet. Situated high in the Andes, scouring acid rain has made it a moonscape. According to one recent study, 97% of the children suffer from lead poisoning. The average child in La Oroya has twice the arsenic and six times the cadmium in his blood than the average American child.

Sagaponack, Long Island has pristine beaches and some of the most beautiful homes on the planet. Even by the opulent standards of the Hamptons, one mansion stands out. Perhaps palace is a better word; Fair Field dwarfs its neighbors and mocks nature with narcissistic grandeur. It's over 100,000 feet, has 29 bedrooms, three dining rooms, multiple libraries, bowling alleys, squash and basketball courts, a $150,000 hot tub.

What do these two places, separated by 3,000 miles, have in common? They are both owned by a man named Ira Rennert.

Rennert is an industrialist in the natural resources business. He controls the Doe Run Company, which claims to be the largest company of its kind in the western hemisphere, and US Magnesium. The EPA just announced last week that they want to declare US Mag's Utah plant a Superfund site, because of 'largely uncontrolled' releases of PCBs and Dioxin. Rennert bought the metal processing plant in La Oroya, Peru in 1997.

He got a good deal, too. At $125 million, he took over a big producer of lead and copper. But there was a catch: as part of the agreement to buy the facility, Rennert's company promised to clean up its operations within 10 years. According to many in Peru and the United States, it has failed to do so. It is a failure that has affected the health of a generation of kids and continues to make La Oroya a paradigm of pollution.

When we discuss pollution these days, we tend to focus on global effects of global consumption - warming caused by billions of individual lifestyle choices. La Oroya, however, is a place where the effects are felt here and now. Successive generations of families poisoned, without the means to leave.

Ira Rennert's monstrous home on the beach proves vulgarity knows no bounds, and the fact that it has been paid for, at least in part, by his operations in La Oroya, is truly shocking.

HDNet World Report correspondent Michael Davie and producer Gareth Harvey have put together an extraordinary documentary about La Oroya and Ira Rennert, called La Oroya: A Poisoned Town, A Billionaire's Profit. It airs Tuesday at 9 Eastern on HDNet World Report. I hope you will watch.