In 1960 the Companhia Brasileira de Chumbo (Cobrac), a former subsidiary of Penarroya Oxide S.A (Metaleurop), and currently part of the Trevo group, settled in the municipalities of Santo Amaro da Purificacao and Boquira to start the exploitation and processing of lead ore. The minerals extracted at the mine of Boquira - mainly Galena and Cerusita - were transformed into ingots of lead in Santo Amaro. Such a transformation occurred through a process of synthesis.
In 1975, the COBRAC presented a project - which was rejected by the State Government of Bahia - to expand its industrial facilities and increase the production of lead. Subsequently, several studies and surveys have been conducted, focusing on the levels of contamination by Pb (lead) and Cd (cadmium) in the local ecosystem and, specifically, in the municipality. This heavy metal is associated with reduced growth, alterations in psychomotor development of children, decreased IQ, decreased hearing, elevation of blood pressure, anemia, kidney problems, in addition to being recognized as probable carcinogenic element by the World Health Organization (WHO). Study conducted by the Departamento de Medicina Preventiva da Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA) confirmed that the population is contaminated with concentrations of Pb and Cd in blood above the levels allowed by the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition, most children residing within 900 metres, from the chimney, had cadmium concentration in the blood above the normal reference value.
Second report prepared by Instituto de Desenvolvimento Ambiental (IDA) in 2002, a result of a study carried out by order of the Public Prosecutor of the Republic in the Bahia State, Plumbum, Cobracs successor, would be located in an area not favourable from an environmental point of view. Its plant is located to the Northwest of the urban area of Santo Amaro, 300 metres from the banks of the River Suba, which received the liquid effluents not treated. The report also added low water volume., that is, the little capacity of dilution and dispersion of pollutants by the receiver river.
Over the three decades in which it operated in the City, the Cobrac factory dumped into the atmosphere, water and soil miscellaneous waste and scrap of lead and cadmium, a total of 500 thousand tons on the occasion of the closing of its activities in in 1993. It is reported that a considerable part of the scoria was donated to the local government and population, as mortar component, being employed in the reform and construction of houses and schools, wells and paving streets. The contamination also occurred for felt contact used as filters of the chimneys of the plant. This material was collected by company employees and residents of Santo Amaro, who then recycled used as rugs, mattresses and toys for the children.
The impacts generated by the activities of Cobrac go beyond the consequences for the health of the population. Testimonials from local people and studies bring economic and social consequences. The land is devalued in the surroundings of the factory and in the affected areas. Tourism, which has represented a source of resources and activities in the city, declined. The death of the infected animals and decreased soil productivity unfold in the loss of traditional planting conditions and livelihoods, reducing the food supply and increasing food insecurity for a not negligible portion of the rural population.
In October 2005, the Platform DhESCA Brazil held a public hearing and review visit in Santo Amaro da Purificacao to [investigate] the impacts of contamination from heavy metals on the economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions of the local population, as well as the measures already adopted and still needed to repair existing rights violations. The Associacao das Vitimas da Contaminacao por Chumbo, Cadmio, Mercurio e Outros Elementos Quimicos (AVICCA) e a Associacao Cultural de Preservacao do Patrimonio Bantu (ACBANTU) participated in the entire visit and are today some of the main local institutions mobilized in the fight against environmental impacts. These institutions support the companys former workers and residents in the city in lawsuits by social rights achieved recognition in addition to supporting the livelihoods of many in need of help after becoming disabled for work for lead contamination.