Peruvian mining, between environmental control and illegality

The environmental impact of mining activity is particularly great, and this is why Peru tries to control and minimize it while fighting against illegal mining.

Mining is one of the activities with great environmental impact. In some countries, such as Peru, the mining sector is one of the pillars of the economy. This activity provides the 20% of tax revenues, contributes with around the 15% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and means the 60% of Peru exports. Therefore, its impact on the country is high and it is necessary to control it.

The main problem are the chemicals that are used to separate minerals from ore, such as cyanide, mercury, sulfuric acid and solvents, as well as the metals found in the ore, such as arsenic, lead, cadmium or chromium. Pollution occurs mainly due to solid particles, which are transferred to soil, air and water, or through effluents, which directly affect the subsoil and rivers. This contamination also reaches people through the air they breathe, the water they drink or the contaminated plants and animals they eat. In addition, the mines alter the topography of the areas, a matter of great importance in areas of special natural value.

In recent years, Peruvian legislation has become increasingly demanding with the mining sector in order to control and minimize its environmental impact. Among the measures that companies must implement is the obligation to make closure plans or to monitor air quality, as well as submit an annual environmental report. Despite this, political instability obstructed the development of a long-term line of work and some companies take profit of the regulatory gaps that exist to not adapt their activity to new demands.

In Peru, beyond the high mining exploitation that is trying to be controlled with new laws, there is a serious problem with illegal mining, which does not heed regulations and is destroying large areas of important environmental value. A clear example is La Pampa, an area located in the Madre de Dios Region, in which the illegal extraction of gold has caused an environmental disaster in one of the most biodiverse forests in the world.

TEMA works with mining companies in the country, along with environmental authorities to investigate and identify polluted sites, as well as to remedy them and comply with the legal requirements. In addition, TEMA has carried out several studies in order to identify strategies and methodologies to improve affected areas, such as the execution of a pilot program to evaluate the development of pastures (grass) in degraded mining soils and determine which can be used for revegetate acid soils and thus take advantage of their phytostabilizing capability, in other words, remove contaminants like the metals in the soil through the plant roots. A valuable work that will continuously promoted with the aim of proposing and implementing measures that minimize the environmental impact of mining activity in Peruvian territory.