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TheStreet Open House

Townsfolks Sickened After Peru Toxic Spill

Stocks in this article: BHP

"Everyone helped and got their hands dirty," said community president Hilario Moran, "without knowing the concentrate was contaminated."

Nancy Damian, who is seven months pregnant, sat on the stoop of her adobe home overlooking the pumping station more than a week after the spill. She said she had spent four days in the hospital, fainting and vomiting constantly.

"My head still hurts and at night my stomach tightens and it feels like the baby is going to come," she said.

Her twin 7-month-old nephews and 17-month-old son, Tony, were also still sick to their stomachs. Tony, she said, has lost 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) since the spill and now weighs 25 1/2 pounds (11.5 kilograms).

"He's sleeping all the time and when he wakes up he starts acting up, biting like a dog," said Damian.

The family's dog, Chocolate, was found dead on August 5 a few yards (meters) from the pipeline, beneath a stand of eucalyptus trees.

A neighbor, 9-year-old Yasira Sotelo, was among those hospitalized at the private San Pablo hospital in the regional capital of Huaraz. She described splitting headaches and a nose bleed that wouldn't stop.

"The nurses pressed cloth into my nostrils and asked me, 'Is blood going into your throat?' I said, 'Yes,' and they applied more and more cloth."

U.S. environmental toxicologist Greg Moller of the University of Idaho said the children likely suffered chemical burns in their lungs as sulfides in the inhaled mineral dust reacted with mucous membranes to produce sulfuric acid.

He said respiratory tract trauma is worse for children because they take two to three breaths for every adult breath.

Dr. Juan Villena, dean of Peru's College of Physicians, visited the scene and told RPP radio that scores of children in the town had been treated, some with "serious muscular and respiratory problems, bleeding from the nose."

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