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An environmental state of emergency has been declared in the remote area, home to the Achuar and Kichwa indigenous people. They live in the Pastaza river basin, near the border with Ecuador, and have been petitioning the government for years to deal with the pollution. However, until now, nothing has been done.
A new law was finally put in place in March 2013 that established limits for contaminants in soil and with high levels of contaminants such as barium, chrome, lead and petroleum-related compounds found in the river basin, Pluspetrol, the biggest producer of oil and gas in Peru, has now been given 90 to clean up its mess and reduce the environmental risk to the indigenous population.
The Peruvian government has imposed multi-million dollar fines on Pluspetrol for environmental breaches in recent years but the company has appealed every single one with the appeal process being drawn out in the courts. The company has been operating its Peruvian oil fields since 2001 when it took over production from Occidental Petroleum, which had been drilling there since 1971 – the Peruvian environmental ministry says neither company has ever cleared any of the contamination caused by their operations.
Seven years ago, the Peruvian health ministry found that Achuar children showed very high levels of blood and calcium in their blood, a situation described as an “environmental disaster” by the campaigning group Amazon Watch.
More environmental checks are to be carried out in other parts of the northern Amazon rainforest where Pluspetrol also has oil fields. The Argentine company has refused to make any comment on the 90-day ruling by the Peruvian government nor responded to criticism from ministers who have branded it irresponsible.