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David Rochkind September 5, 2008

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Peru.
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Bertha Luz Andrade, La Oroya, Peru, 2007

David Rochkind is a freelance photographer who has focused on Latin America for the past five years while living in Caracas, Venezuela. His work generally focuses on the point where economic and social needs of communities meet and how that balance affects the overall well being of the population. His clients include The New York Times, Time Magazine, Stern, Glamour and CARE. In 2008 he was named as one of Photo District News’ “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch” and was also awarded an International Reporting Project Fellowship at Johns Hopkins University.

About the Photograph:

“Bertha Luz Andrade had cancer and died a few weeks after this photograph was taken in her home in La Oroya, Peru. La Oroya is one of the most polluted places on the planet, owing to a metal smelting plant that has emitted toxic gases for more than 80 years. This pollution is having a devastating effect on the community nestled next to the plant. According to a study by the University of St. Louis nearly all of the children in the town have lead poisoning and local doctors say that the health problems include other forms of metal poisoning, like arsenic, and higher incidences of cancer. The town of La Oroya grew up around the plant and is economically dependent on the very industry that is poisoning them.

Even while she was sick, Bertha was the primary caretaker of her five children, as her husband worked construction outside of the town. Doctors told Bertha she had to leave La Oroya to recuperate but with no money to leave town and a huge family responsibility in town, going away was an impossible proposition. Bertha’s situation is a perfect example of the difficulties in directly linking the plant’s pollution to the town’s disease; there are almost no studies being done on a large level and individuals have no money to see doctors. Local health workers estimate that the incidence of cancer in La Oroya is 1 in 50 people, far greater than an average city, but it is impossible to know specifically if Bertha’s case is linked to the pollution. The cycle of ignorance and deniability has been going on for years leaving the people of La Oroya sick, uninformed and often afraid of what would happen to their town and lives if the plant lowered production or closed down. “

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