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5 Nov 2020

Hokuto Nakata et al. Phys.org

Zambia: Kabwe is one of the most polluted places on Earth as a result of the long history of lead and zinc mining

‘The lasting effects of pollution from the Kabwe mine’ 4 November 2020

Kabwe, Zambia, has a long history of lead and zinc mining, centered around the now-closed Broken Hill Mine. Due to the mine, the city is also one of the most polluted places on Earth; even though the mine has closed, artisanal/small-scale mining continues, leading to the expansion of the polluted area. Scientists from Hokkaido University and the University of Zambia (UNZA) have shown that inhabitants of Kabwe have very high blood levels of the toxic heavy metals lead and Cadmium, and also show clinical symptoms of lead and cadmium toxicity. Their results—the first study of clinical effects of lead and cadmium toxicity in the town—were published in the journal Chemosphere.

…Previous studies have shown that blood lead levels in children in Kabwe are much higher than the WHO-prescribed reference levels. However, the levels of other heavy metals have not been investigated, and neither have the effects of their toxicity been assessed. The scientists studied the effect of three heavy metals—lead, zinc and cadmium—in a sample of 504 individuals across 40 study areas representative of the Kabwe region. The scientists collected BMI data, measured blood levels of each metal, and assessed blood, liver and kidney toxicity.

…This is the first report on the clinical outcomes of individuals affected by multiple metal exposure in Africa. Despite the limitations, significant correlations were found between blood metal levels and clinical parameters especially for adult participants, indicating potential adverse health effects due to metal exposure in Kabwe. Studies to further understand the causes and effects of the pollution must be undertaken. Dr. Hokuto Nakata of the research team emphasizes, "We cannot wait for the results of all the analyses to begin addressing the issues; treatment of affected people and remediation of polluted environments must begin immediately."