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MINE EATS CITY

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    The open-pit mine operated by Volcan is seen in the center of the city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru, photographed from a hot air balloon.
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    Children play in a playground bordering contaminated mine tailings in the Paragsha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
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    Martin Trinidad Saco, 70, guides his sheep through the highly contaminated Quiulacocha lagoon near Cerro de Pasco, Peru. The lagoon contains acid water and unhealthy tailings from decades of mining and ore processing activity in Cerro de Pasco. Trinidad Saco has lived in the area since 1958, before the lagoon was contaminated. He remembers fishing and collecting bird eggs in the lagoon when it still supported animal life.
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    A shepherd guides alpacas and llamas back toward home in Botadero de Rumiyana, in the hills above Cerro de Pasco, Peru. In the background is a large pile of mine tailings which is growing daily. The pile now covers fields and a lagoon which were previously used by the shepherds for their animals. Farther in the background is the city of Cerro de Pasco and the open-pit mine run by Volcan in the center of the city.
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    Women wash clothing with water taken from a hole in an industrial water pipeline used by the Volcan mining company in the Carlos Mariategui neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. On the left is Abdona Taquiri de Vargas. On the right is Lucia Vilma Portal Gonzales.
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    A family carrying bundles of laundry walks back home from an area called Yanamate, on the far outskirts of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Due to the lack of clean water available in the city, this family and many others trek far outside to wash their cloths.
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    Cloths are hung out to dry along a fence which separates the Yanacancha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru from the edge of the open-pit mine.
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    Women with mining helmets look on as children participate in an elementary school parade in the Paragsha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
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    Musicians from the Juventud del Centro group play in the colonial area of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Under an initiative known as Plan L to expand the open-pit mine in Cerro de Pasco, the colonial area would be destroyed to make way for more mining activity.
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    Celso Curi Santiago places offerings for the Panchamama as he performs an Inca ceremony known as Pago la Tierra, or Pay the Earth, on his ranch on the outskirts of Rancas, near Cerro de Paco, Peru. Curi Santiago is engaged in a legal battle with the Volcan mining company because their operations on the outskirts of Cerro de Pasco have damaged his land. He performs the Pago la Tierra ceremony annually to thank the Panchamama for the earth's bounty which he lives off of from his ranch.
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    Street art by Daniel Cortez is seen in the Esperanza neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
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    Leydi Jazmin Huaqui Gonzales, 9, left, and Sonia Rosemery Huaqui Gonzales, 8, right, play with their neighbors outside their homes in the Jose Carlos Mariategui neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru on June 17, 2013. All five of Sonia Gonzales' children have very high lead blood levels, including Gisella Pablo Gonzales, 13, 19.42 lead level; Leydi Jazmin Huaqui Gonzales, 9, 17.78; Sonia Rosemery Huaqui Gonzales, 8, 16.63; Luis Carlos Huaqui Gonzales, 6, 12.86 lead level; and Anthony Davis Huaqui Gonzales, 2, 12.30 lead level. In the background is a recent pile of mine tailings.
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    The Chaupimarca Plaza, center, is seen from a hot air balloon in the air over Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Under an initiative known as Plan L to expand the open-pit mine in Cerro de Pasco, the Chaupimarca Plaza and surrounding colonial buildings and church would be destroyed to make way for more mining activity.
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    Two teenagers stand among abandoned and wrecked buildings in the Pilar neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. The previously bustling neighborhood has been transformed into a wasteland after being purchased by the Volcan mining company for expansion of the adjoining open-pit mine.
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    Hector Amilcar Jullca Zanabria and Maria Luz Pacahuala Inga parade through the historic central square of Cerro de Pasco, Peru after their wedding in the city's main Catholic church in the Chaupimarca neighborhood. The church and surrounding historic square are slated for destruction to expand open-pit mining operations.
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    People from the funeral party of Placida Ledesma Santos, who died at the age of 74, wait among tombs next to the burial plot as the funeral proceeds in the General Cemetery of Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
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    The open-pit mine run by Volcan is seen early in the morning in the center of the city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
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    Nelsi Nieto Aguirre plays with a hoola hoop near her home in Villa Pasco, 15 km from the city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Villa Pasco was designated as a potential site to relocate the population of the contaminated mining city of Cerro de Pasco. Electricity, water and homes were build in the 1990's, but today 70% of the homes are empty. Residents of Cerro de Pasco complained that the homes are too small to live in. This family is one of the few that relocated, and the father currently commutes to work in the mine.
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    Erick Mateo Pacheco, 9, is seen near empty houses in Villa Pasco, 15 km from the city of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Villa Pasco was designated as a potential site to relocate the population of the contaminated mining city of Cerro de Pasco. Electricity, water and homes were build in the 1990's, but today 70% of the homes are empty. Residents of Cerro de Pasco complained that the homes are too small to live in.
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    Toxic mine tailings are seen surrounding the Chamapamarca neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Green mesh has been placed over the portion of the tailings pile closest to homes.
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    Toxic water which is tinted red from contamination by mine tailings is seen from the shore of the Quilacocha lagoon, near Cerro de Pasco, Peru.
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    Luz Falcon Toribio, from a team of 10 women, works for Volcan mining company digging holes to plant quinuales trees in the Champamarca neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco on Aug. 15, 2012. The tree planing initiative is a reaction to Peru's Ministry of Environment declaring a 90 day environmental emergency in Champamarca and serveral surrounding areas. Local residents, including some of the women working on the project, commented that the tree planting project was only a symbolic gesture by the mining company and would not resolve the high levels of lead and heavy metal contamination in Champamarca.The open-pit mine run by Volcan is seen bordering the neighborhood of San Juan, viewed from a hill in the Paragsha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco on Aug. 5, 2012.
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    Maria de los Angeles Oscanoa Huaman does her homework on the bed at home in the Paragsha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. Three of the Oscanoa children tested with extremely high levels of lead in their blood, including Maricielo Cardenas Huaman, 11 years old, 22.90%, Maria de los Angeles Oscanoa Huaman, 5 years old, 29.56%, and Brayan Oscanoa Huaman, 3 years old, 31.99%.
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    Dr. Richard Yanos Yanos checks the skin color of the hands against the color of the abdomen of patient Leydi Jazmin Huaqui Gonzales, 9, inside the doctor's office at the health clinic in the Paragsha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco on June 20, 2013. All five of Sonia Gonzales' children have very high lead blood levels, including Gisella Pablo Gonzales, 13, 19.42 lead level; Leydi Jazmin Huaqui Gonzales, 9, 17.78; Sonia Rosemery Huaqui Gonzales, 8, 16.63; Luis Carlos Huaqui Gonzales, 6, 12.86 lead level; and Anthony Davis Huaqui Gonzales, 2, 12.30 lead level.
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    Tahis Bionica Palma Carhuaricra, 7, drinks a bottle of milk at home in the Paragsha neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru on June 11, 2013. In 2007 Tahis Bionic tested with 66.02% lead poisoning in her blood, one of the highest levels recorded in Cerro de Pasco. She started having seizures when she was 6 months old, and her mother, Maria Carhuaricra, said she has had more than one hundred. Tahis Bionica has severe disabilities and is unable to talk or eat normal food. She stays at home while her sisters attend school.
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    The funeral of Rosael Solis Gonzales takes place in the Quiulacocha cemetery, 2 km from Cerro de Pasco, Peru on Aug. 21, 2012. Rosael Solis Gonzalez was born dead on Aug. 17, 2012 to Nelly Gonzales Palacios, 31, who was eight months pregnant at the time. Nelly Gonzales Palacios's youngest son, Yover Solis Gonzales, 3, suffers from elevated levels of lead in his blood. The family lives in the Champamarca neighborhood which is surrounded on three sides by contaminated mine tailings.
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    Children, including Yaro Castro Luciano, 13, red shirt, Admer Jordan Tolentino Ayala, 9, striped shirt, Yan Tolentino Ayala, purple shirt, and Anthony Nerio Deudor Torochea, 7, white shirt, flight kites on a hill above the Jose Carlos Mariategui neighborhood of Cerro de Pasco, Peru. In the background, in the center of the city, is the open-pit mine operated by Volcan.
Mine Eats City

High in Peru’s Andes mountains sits Cerro de Pasco, a 400-year old city which is being devoured from its very center by an expanding open-pit mine.

The two months that Tomas van Houtryve lived in Cerro de Pasco —meeting its lead-poisoned children and surveying the wounded land —often felt like he was living in a parable. Everyone in the city knew that the dragon was eating its own tail, slowly consuming its wealth, along with the health of the mine workers, their friends and families.

Neighborhoods near the open-pit are on the verge of being swallowed. Heaps of mine tailings laced with lead are continually deposited next to playgrounds and schools. People walk for hours for access to clean water or dip into tainted industrial pipelines for their washing.

Since the mine is central to the city’s economy, few people want it to be completely shut down. What they want is for the Volcan mining company to conduct their operations responsibly.

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