Peru relaxes air quality standards to help mining industry

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LIMA (Reuters) - Peru adopted new and more flexible air quality standards on Wednesday after the old standards were criticized by mining companies and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

A decree published by the environment ministry raised the maximum amount of sulfur dioxide, a byproduct of smelting copper and other base metals, that can be emitted to 250 micrograms per cubic meter per 24 hours, from the 20 micrograms per cubic meter previously.

Peru is the world’s No. 2 copper producer and mining accounts for 60 percent of its exports. Mining companies had criticized Peru for having overly strict air quality standards, complaining the technology to meet them does not exist.

A third auction of a smelter in La Oroya, one of the world’s most contaminated cities, failed to find a new operator in March. The lack of interest was in part because potential bidders were waiting for new environmental standards to be released.

Kuczynski said in July of last year that air quality standards were “unrealistic” and more stringent than in Finland. The situation had slowed investment in Peru, he said.

He said air quality standards used in other mining countries were more reasonable.

Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Caroline Stauffer; editing by Grant McCool