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Lead contamination in Santo Amaro, Bahia, Brazil


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.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lead contamination in Santo Amaro, Bahia, Brazil
State or province:Bahia
Location of conflict:Santo Amaro da Purificacao e Boquira
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tailings from mines
Mineral ore exploration
Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Lead

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Cobrac processing 30 thousand tons of Lead per year.

It is estimated that in 32 years of operation, the Cobrac have produced around 900 tons of lead alloy, generating about 500 thousand tons of scoria, material with up to 3% concentration of this element.

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:57000
Start of the conflict:1990
Company names or state enterprises:Companhia Brazileira de Chumbo (COBRAC) from Brazil
Penarroya Oxide S.A from France
Metaleurop from France
Grupo Trevo from Brazil
Relevant government actors:State Government of Bahia, City Hall of Santo Amaro, Conselho Nacional de Segurana Alimentar e Nutricional - Consea, Centro de Recursos Ambientais - CRA, Fundacao Nacional de Saude - Funasa, Coordenacao Geral de Vigilancia em Saude Ambiental do Ministerio da Saude , Superintendencia de Vigilancia e Protecao da Sade (Suvisa) da Secretaria da Saude do Estado da Bahia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Instituto de Desenvolvimento Ambiental (IDA), Departamento de Medicina Preventiva da Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), Associacao de Preservacao do Patrimonio Bantu (Acbantu), Associacao das Vitimas da Contaminacao por Chumbo, Cadmio, Mercurio e Outros Elementos Quimicos (AVICCA), Movimento Popular de Saude Ambiental de Santo Amaro (MOPSAM)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Realization of a public hearing by Plataforma Dhesca Brazil. Creation of a virtual space of discussion of local problems by MOPSAM.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Cobrac is currently closed, but the impacts generated by the company have not been mitigated and contamination remains.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Acesso em: 28 ago. 2012.

ANJOS, J..S.A.; SANCHEZ, L.E. Plano de gestao ambiental para sitios contaminados por residuos industriais - o caso da Plumbum em Santo Amaro da Purificacao/BA. Bahia Analises e Dados, Salvador, v. 10, n. 4, p. 306-309, mar.2001. ISSN 0103 8117. Disponivel em:

Acesso em: 27 ago. 2012.

CARVALHO, F.M. et al. Intoxicao pelo chumbo: Zinco protoporfirina no sangue de crianas de Santo Amaro da Purificao e de Salvador, BA. Jornal de Pediatria, v. 72, n. 5, p. 295-298, 1996. ISSN 0021-7557. Disponvel em:

Acesso em: 27 ago. 2012.

PORTELLA, R.B. et al. Desativacao de uma metalrugica em Santo Amaro da Purificacao, BA: Passivo ambiental e deficit institucional. In: ENCONTRO DA SOCIEDADE BRASILEIRA DE ECONOMIA ECOLOGICA, 7, 05 a 07 ago., 2008, Cuiaba. Trabalhos. Cuiaba: ECO ECO, 2008. 21 p. p. Disponivel em:

Acesso em: 28 ago. 2012.

ALMEIDA, M.D.; PENA, P.G.L. Feira livre e risco de contaminacao alimentar: Estudo de abordagem etnografica em Santo Amaro, Bahia. Revista Baiana de Sade Publica, Salvador, v. 35, n. 1, p. 110-127, jan/mar.2011. ISSN 0100-0233. Disponivel em:

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

GARDENAL, Isabela. Criancas tem altas concentracoes de chumbo nos dentes em cidade na BA. Jornal da UNICAMP, 03 abr. 2011. Disponivel em:

PELLEGRINI, Marcelo. Santo Amaro da Purificacao: Interesses dubios e Judiciario letargico abandonam cidade ao chumbo. Carta Capital, 09 fev. 2012. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 16 jul. 2012.

RODRIGUES, Alean. Vitimas do chumbo em Santo Amaro fazem manifestacao e pedem indenizacao. A Tarde, 28 nov. 2009. Disponivel em: Acesso em: 16 jul. 2012.

Acesso em: 16 jul. 2012.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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Contributor:Diogo Rocha
Last update08/04/2014