Mining, especially for valuable metals like copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc, is a sizeable chunk of Peru’s economy. In 2019, mined goods accounted for just over 60 percent of Peru’s exports, generating 1.8 million jobs and almost $30 billion, approximately one tenth of the country’s gross domestic product. 16 percent of all private money invested in Peru is invested in metal mining, which has drawn a great deal of international industry to the country.

There are well over five hundred major metal mining projects underway right now, in a country almost twice the size of Texas. Many of those projects are in regions that are home to Peruvian indigenous peoples, such as the Cusco region (home of Machu Picchu). Social unrest already surrounds these projects, mostly directed at their environmental and human health impacts.

Between 2018 and 2020, Amnesty International carried out a body of studies on the health of indigenous communities in Peru. They tested the blood of volunteers and tracked birth rates, along with maternal and infant health. On May 18, 2021, they reported their results.

In 11 communities of the K’ana indigenous people, who live in the southeast Espinar province in the Cusco region, over 8,000 people tested high in lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and/or manganese, all known byproducts of metal mining. There is no safe level of lead or cadmium to be found in the human body, and arsenic and mercury are also highly toxic. All of those four can cause illness and death in the individual, and severe birth and developmental defects in fetuses.

“This scientific and independent evidence shows that the communities in Espinar are facing a health crisis that requires an urgent and robust response from the government,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

According to Amnesty International, Peru’s government already recognizes that 10 million citizens, almost a third of the country, are at risk of exposure to heavy metals due to mining efforts. The organization calls their lack of response to this “another example of the failed state of Peru’s health system.”