Unidentified toxic spill in Cajamarca

The Cajamarca Regional Civil Defense Committee held an emergency with the local government yesterday to arrange the immediate response to the finding of a toxic material that may be mercury.

Miguel Alva Cárdenas, of the committee, told press that an investigation is underway to determine what the substance is, and how it came to be deposited in the San Juan district of Cajamarca, and called on locals to remain calm. All that is known for certain is that the substance consists of small, lead-colored particles.

Samples are being sent to Lima for analysis, but this will take eight to ten days. In the meantime, Civil Defense is working to minimize any possible danger or health risk for the local population, as well as protecting the environment from the substance’s effects.

Alva warned that any locals who had picked up any of the material ought to return it immediately, and to visit the nearest health center to check for symptoms of poisoning.

While the material itself is being analyzed and locals screened for symptoms, further investigations are underway to determine the extent of contamination and to find out who is responsible.

District Mayor Edinson Terán Medina has said that a chemical transport truck from the RANSA company collided with another vehicle in the region on April 23rd, but that this chemical spill was only reported on May 10th. He warned against jumping to conclusions before the facts are known. He added that the area has been cordoned off, and that the cleanup operation will start today at 9am.

An accidental spill by a RANSA vehicle transporting mercury from the Yanacocha mine to Lima caused serious pollution in the same region in June 2002. This time, Yanacocha has denied all responsibility, saying that nomercury has left their installations since January 8th. A RANSA spokesperson stated that the company ceased transporting mercury for any of its clients in the wake of the spill in 2000.

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