Victories & Steps Along the Way: Peru, Chile, Spain, Tanzania, Honduras, South Africa

E-LAW U.S. has collaborated with partners around the world to win hundreds of victories for the environment, public health, and human rights. These victories mean that forests and critical ecosystems are healthier, and communities around the world are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water. A few recent successes illustrate E-LAW’s high impact work. Protecting Public Health in Peru

Children with smelter in backgroundLa Oroya, Peru

High in the Peruvian Andes, the community of La Oroya is gravely affected by lead, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, and cadmium emissions from a U.S. corporation`s polymetallic smelter. According to the Peruvian health ministry, nearly all children in the area under the age of six have lead blood levels above the guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization. E-LAW U.S. has worked for many years with partners at the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA) and the Civil Association Labor (LABOR) to conduct soil and dust sampling, provide information about the health effects of smelter emissions, interpret the results of environmental monitoring, and help the community take steps to make its voice heard about the public health crisis. In April, a Lima court ordered the Peruvian Ministry of Health and the General Directorate of Environmental Health to take steps to alleviate the public health crisis in La Oroya. The court`s decision resolves a lawsuit filed by local residents (with support from SPDA, LABOR and other organizations) that alleges government authorities failed to comply with Peru`s health and environmental quality laws. E-LAW U.S. Environmental Research Scientist, Meche Lu, recently traveled to Peru to provide technical support to the community groups and NGOs pushing for a more rapid clean-up of La Oroya. Meche observed: "The authorities need to present a plan to address the public health crisis. Meanwhile, we will continue to support the community and their effort to protect the environment and public health." Chile to Compensate Toxic Waste Victims In a strong victory for citizens and the environment, a Court of Appeals in Chile has ruled that a company acted maliciously when it contaminated the northern border town of Arica. The court ordered the company to pay for restoring the environment. The Court of Appeals also reversed a lower court and ordered the government of Chile to compensate 176 victims of the toxic contamination. In the mid-1980s, a Chilean company, Promel, imported 20,000 tons of lead- and arsenic-laced mining wastes to Arica for reprocessing. The company then abandoned the wastes. Later, children living in low income housing near the wastes were found to have dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic in their bodies. E-LAW U.S. worked with advocates at Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente (FIMA) as they filed a case in local court to force the company and government authorities to remediate the contaminated area and compensate the affected citizens. Although the government moved the waste piles to a ravine just outside of Arica, a substantial amount of contaminated soil was left behind. E-LAW U.S. Environmental Research Scientist, Meche Lu, collected a soil sample from an affected neighborhood for analysis at a laboratory in Oregon. The sample was found to contain lead and arsenic levels far above those considered safe by the World Health Organization. Meche returned to Arica with FIMA attorney Francisco Ferrada to testify in court about the results of the soil analysis. She informed the court about the continuing risks of contamination in the affected neighborhoods. Meche`s deposition was critical to May`s ruling. In an e-mail message announcing the victory, Jose Ignacio Pinochet, FIMA Executive Director, wrote: "The direct help of E-LAW was key." Chile Protects Endangered Hardwood

Stump of cut alerce tree
Remains of an ancient alerce tree
PHOTO: Carlos Poblete

E-LAW advocate Miguel Fredes has scored a major victory against a multi-million dollar illegal logging racket that was devastating ancient forests in southern Chile. For years, the government of Chile has allowed trade in the endangered "alerce" tree, a majestic conifer that is a relative to the giant sequoia. One tree in Chile`s southern coastal forest is said to be 3,620 years old. Despite the alerce`s ancient heritage, Chilean authorities have been using an exception to CITES, an international convention to stop the trade of endangered species, to export alerce to the U.S. The CITES exception allowed export of alerce logged before 1973 (when alerce was added to the endangered list) or trees damaged by fire or disease. Miguel suspected that the CITES exception encouraged illegal logging of healthy trees and arson for salvage logging. E-LAW U.S. connected Miguel to Cheryl Coon, a Portland, Oregon-based pro bono attorney. Cheryl worked with E-LAW U.S. Staff Attorney Jen Gleason to help Miguel use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Customs concerning import of alerce into the U.S. Miguel followed a trail of documents that laid the groundwork for a criminal investigation of authorities in Chile. In April, Miguel won a landmark victory when Chile`s government announced it was closing the longstanding CITES loophole, and ordering no further export or trade in alerce. In early May, police arrested the mayor of the small community of Fresia, near Puerto Montt, for his alleged role in this illegal trade. Protecting Birds in Central Spain

Airport and endangered eagle
Airport near the ZEPA Campos de Calatrava. An endangered eagle (inset).

E-LAW advocates in Spain are making progress challenging an ill-advised airport project, proposed for an area near the ZEPA Campos de Calatrava, a protected area for birds in Ciudad Real in central Spain. Attorney Gines Ruiz, working on behalf of Sociedad Española de Ornitología/BirdLife, called on E-LAW U.S. to review the project`s environmental impact assessment (EIA). E-LAW U.S. scientists provided Gines with information about the potential effects of noise and air emissions on the endangered birds, and identified serious flaws in the airport design and management plan that put birds at risk. The science team also noted that the EIA lacked a risk assessment of aviation safety hazards caused by impacts with birds. SEO/BirdLife sent the E-LAW U.S. conclusions to the European Union Commission, explaining that the proposed project violates EU regulations. Shortly thereafter, Spain`s Ministry of Public Buildings issued an order to stop the airport project. Unfortunately, work on the airport project is underway. SEO/BirdLife has sent a report to the EU Commission, informing them that the project has not been halted. Gines is hoping for a positive ruling from the EU Court of Justice. Cleaning up Lake Victoria E-LAW partners in Tanzania have made progress cleaning up Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Two large fish-processing plants in Mwanza, Tanzania, have been discharging untreated effluent directly into the lake. E-LAW U.S. worked with James Njelwa at the Lawyers` Environmental Action Team`s (LEAT) Mwanza office to design an environmental monitoring plan and test the effluent. Lab results showed harmful and impermissible levels of organic pollutants. Since the monitoring, one of the companies installed an effluent treatment plant and the other one closed. Although further progress is needed (the company still operating must expand its treatment capacity) the lake is cleaner. Congratulations to our partners at LEAT! Hope for Natural Resources in Honduras E-LAW advocate Clarisa Vega offers new hope for protecting reefs and coastal ecosystems in Honduras. Following her fellowship at E-LAW U.S. in the fall of 2004 (see E-LAW Advocate, Autumn 2004), Clarisa returned home to Tegucigalpa and gathered professional colleagues to launch the Environmental Law Institute of Honduras (IDAMHO).

Sign near fragile coral reef

IDAMHO and E-LAW co-hosted a conference in La Ceiba, Honduras, in April 2005, to educate community members and NGO leaders about using legal tools to protect the environment. The workshop was one of a series sponsored by E-LAW U.S. and led by members of the Mesoamerican Legal Strategy Group, a regional coalition of advocates working to protect the Reef in their home countries. Reefs in Honduras have been damaged by Hurricane Mitch, coral bleaching events, pollution and sedimentation from coastal watersheds, and poor fishing and tourism practices. Protecting the reefs and promoting sustainable tourism could bring much needed revenue to the North Coast and Bay Islands of Honduras, where local NGOs are working hard to protect and restore diversity. Since the workshop, Clarisa has traveled to Utila and Omoa Baracoa to help local groups develop site-specific legal strategies to address reef problems. IDAMHO will help these communities and others safeguard their natural resources. E-LAW advocates around the world will contribute to and learn from IDAMHO`s work. E-LAW U.S. thanks the Summit Foundation for supporting this work to build the capacity of local advocates in Belize, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala to protect the Mesoamerican Reef. Nuclear Power Plant Halted in South Africa In January, a South African High Court halted plans to build a mini-nuclear reactor in Koeberg, north of Cape Town. E-LAW U.S. Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik helped grassroots advocates in South Africa challenge this ill-advised project. This victory is a triumph for public participation because it recognizes that citizens seeking to participate in decisions about a prospective development must be able to obtain information about that development. This is the first case in South Africa where a court stopped a project because the proponents and the regulatory authority failed to provide the public access to critical documents. This important legal precedent will ensure that South Africans can more fully participate in decisions that affect their communities. E-LAW U.S. congratulates E-LAW advocates Adrian Pole, Angela Andrews, and Eugene Cairncross. Adrian is an environmental attorney practicing in Durban, South Africa. Angela is an attorney with the Legal Resource Centre in Cape Town. She represented Earthlife Africa, which was the applicant in the review case. Eugene is a scientist at Peninsula Technikon.

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Protecting Public Health in Peru; Chile to Compensate Toxic Waste Victims; Chile Protects Endangered Hardwood; Protecting Birds in Central Spain; Cleaning up Lake Victoria; Hope for Natural Resources in Honduras; Nuclear Power Plant Halted in South Africa