Cerro de Pasco mine, Peru. Greg Hayes

By ANDREW WHALEN, Associated Press Writer – 18 April 2010

CERRO DE PASCO, Peru – The mile-wide gash grows almost daily with each dynamite blast, slowly devouring this bleak provincial capital high in the Andes.

The half-century-old, open-pit zinc and lead mine belches streamers of dust that coat homes. The soil is so contaminated, indigenous Quechua communities on the city's outskirts have quit growing potatoes and lettuce. Local taps run for six hours on a good week; 80 percent of available water goes to the mine. …

Critics say the town of 70,000, one of Peru's first industrial mining complexes, embodies 100 years of unregulated extraction, toxic dumping and illegal land grabs.

"As my life has gone by, I've watched the mine swallow the city," says Cerro de Pasco congresswoman Gloria Ramos, 54, gazing across the void from a rocky outcrop above the tangled streets and remnants of her hometown. "There has been a great exodus, but the poor stay." …

Quiulacocha sits on the shore of a shriveled lagoon filled with red-orange mine tailings dumped by Centromin. When the wind picks up, the community is showered with its heavy metal dust.

"We can no longer grow lettuce or shiri potato in the yard," says sheepherder Raul Herrera. …

Primitivo Condeza, 47, guides his flock of sheep and alpaca down a rocky hill behind the village, his 12-year-old son Wilder shuffling silently behind. He's got four kids and says doctors have confirmed that all suffer from chronic lead contamination.

"The contamination has taken away his memory," Condeza says, gazing at Wilder. "Year after year I put him in school, but he's still in the first grade. He should be done by now."

Peru town copes with being devoured by mine

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