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.
A call to Los Angeles-based Occidental seeking comment was not immediately returned.
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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