Peruvian group claims Occidental Petroleum contaminated land 5-10-07

By ALEX VEIGA
LOS ANGELES (AP)
- Members of an indigenous group in Peru are suing
Occidental Petroleum Corp., claiming the company's oil production
operations in the Andean nation resulted in toxic levels of pollution
that left many people sick or at risk of serious illness.

The complaint, filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court,
was brought by 25 Achuar Indians who claim they suffered health
problems from cancer to lead poisoning due to exposure to
contaminants from Occidental's oil production operation.

The group also blames the death of one of the plaintiffs' children on
the company's actions.

 

Richard S. Kline, spokesman for Los Angeles-based Occidental, said
the company had not seen the lawsuit, but would respond accordingly.
He stressed, however, that Occidental believes its claims are
meritless.

“We have no scientific data of any negative health effects resulting
from our former operations in Peru,” Kline said.

The suit seeks class-action status and unspecified compensatory and
punitive damages.

“With this lawsuit, I am here demanding Oxy clean up and compensate
for the contamination it left in the Rio Corrientes region,” Apu
Tomas Maynas Carijano, the lead plaintiff, said in a statement. “We
can no longer eat the fish or drink the water. Our children are
guaranteed death unless Oxy acts now.”

The group is native to Peru's Upper Corrientes Basin. They claim the
region gradually became contaminated by pollutants over the three
decades since Occidental first established operations there.

According to the lawsuit, Occidental discharged millions of gallons
of water used to process crude oil back into local waterways,
flooding rivers with heavy metals, radioactive compounds and other
harmful compounds.

The crude oil processing also released gasses that have contributed
to air pollution and acid rain, the group claims.

The Achuar's land was also exposed to contamination from chemical
waste, which the company stored in unlined earthen pits, according to
the lawsuit.

Government health studies have found that Achuar Indians in the zone
suffer high blood concentrations of cadmium and lead - a problem that
Peruvian officials have said goes back to the 1970s when Occidental
operated in the region.

The company pumped oil in Peru's northern jungle until 1999, when its
operations were bought by the Argentine-run company Pluspetrol.

Last year, that company signed an agreement with the Peruvian
government to stop dumping contaminated oil waste by July 2008 after
two weeks of protests by an Indian group.

 

 

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