Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls
Children of Lead
At an altitude slightly above twelve thousand feet, in the Central Andean region of Peru, pollution is a fact of life for the inhabitants of La Oroya. Since 1922, the city of La Oroya has been exposed to toxic emissions released from the Doe Run Peru metal smelting plant. Doe Run Peru is a subsidiary of Missouri-based Doe Run, the world’s largest primary lead producer and the world’s second largest total lead producer. Doe Run is part of the privately held New York-based Renco group. Peru’s state mining company Centromin operated the 80-year-old La Oroya facility for 25 years before Doe Run bought it in 1997. The smelter processes concentrates, producing 11 metals and nine by-products, including copper, lead, zinc and silver.
In July of 2007, I had my first glimpse of La Oroya and at that instant I knew I had to make sense of what lay before me. As the rain beat against the bus window, there was a sudden stark change in landscape. The rich farm lands and endless mountain ranges faded as we entered a deep valley. That defining moment, what I was about to encounter, changed my life. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before; what appeared to be snow was ash overlaying black mountainsides. It was a dark and conflicting place and I was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency.
A Health Ministry study from the government of Peru showed that 90% of the children tested had lead poisoning, a condition, which causes mental retardation, hyperactivity, liver and kidney disease and even death. Lab studies revealed that many of these children had levels of lead in their bodies four times greater than what the World Health Organization considers the normal amount. In addition to brain damage, children are at high risk of developing lung cancer as well as other respiratory ailments, skin conditions and digestive disorders. As the plant continues to release lead, copper, zinc and sulfur dioxide into the air on a daily basis, generations of young children will be exposed to environmental and health risks.
This work evolved from my personal interest in documenting environmentally themed social issues. I hope to use this project as a base for the begging of my book project documenting pollution on a global level. Children Of Lead has yet to be published. I am looking to find the right outlet to publish this type of story in print or the support from a publication to return and continue working on the project. I hope to eventually have it published in print, not for myself, but for the people I documented. They let me so deep into their lives, in the times of joy and the times of sorrow, and in the most intimate and personal moments when they opened up to me it was because they truly understood the injustice they were facing and wanted the world to hear their cries.
Michael Mullady is a native of Northern California currently living in San Francisco.
Michael’s longtime fascination with story telling and the human condition transitioned him naturally into photojournalism. Michael passion for photography lies in long-term documentary projects and he has a specific interest in environmentally themed social issues. Michael is a firm believer that documentary photography is more about who you are a person, then who you are as a photographer and considers himself a visual humanitarian.
Michael’s work was recognized in the 2009 PDN Photo Annual and was awarded the Marty Forscher Fellowship for Humanistic Photography from the Parson’s School for Design in NYC. In 2008 and 2009, Michael’s portfolio was awarded College Photographer Of The Year from The White House News Photographers Association and he was named National Press Photographers Association College Photographer Of The Year in 2007.
Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..
Many thanks… david alan harvey