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Kenya: Goldman Prize-winning activist leads lawsuit against lead smelting factory that allegedly caused lead poisoning

Phyllis Omido is leading a landmark class action demanding a clean-up and compensation from a lead-smelting factory accused of poisoning local residents - including her own son. She has in the past been threatened by thugs, arrested by police and forced into hiding for organising opposition to a lead-smelting factory in Mombasa, which allegedly poisoned residents in the neighbouring shantytown of Owino Uhuru.

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Article
15 February 2018

Woman human rights defender overcoming threats & intimidation to bring a lawsuit against factory allegedly polluting environment causin health complications

Author: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian

"Kenya's 'Erin Brockovich' defies harassment to bring anti-pollution case to courts"

Phyllis Omido has been threatened by thugs, arrested by police and forced into hiding for organising opposition to a lead-smelting factory in Mombasa, which allegedly poisoned residents in the neighbouring shantytown of Owino Uhuru. But the NGO she founded, the Centre for Justice, Governance, and Environmental Action, has already forced the closure of the plant and is now pushing the courts to secure compensation for the victims and a clean-up of the community.

They have gathered thousands of local residents in a class action against the government and two companies – Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd and Penguin Paper and Book Company (no connection with the global publishing company) for 1.6bn Kenyan shillings (£11.5m) compensation and a clean-up of contaminated land...

Sometimes referred to as the “east African Erin Brockovich”, Omido was a co-winner of the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 along with Berta Cáceres, the Honduran activist who was murdered a year later. Omido also lives under constant threat. She has had to go into hiding several times and carries a panic button that can alert international supporters and trace her whereabouts if she is abducted. “I face threats to my life because of this case,” she told the Guardian.

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Article
10 October 2017

Environmental defender's activism against a lead-smelting factory whose discharge allegedly caused lead poisoning

Author: UN Environment

"On the frontlines of the fight for a healthy planet"

Phyllis Omido had no idea she was an environmental defender when she started asking questions about why people in her community – including her own son – had started getting sick. After taking her son for various tests, which all turned out negative, a workmate suggested she get him tested for lead poisoning. When the tests came back positive, she became aware of the devastating effects of lead in the environment.

She ignored threats to her life and the lives of her loved ones to alert the Kenyan government that a local smelting factory was releasing lead into the local water supply, and blanketing the area in toxic fumes. “I was beaten, arrested, and on a number of occasions jailed when I demanded to have the lead smelter shut down and the owners held accountable. Instead, they accused me of ‘inciting violence,’” said Omido. “I was acquitted, along with some of the community, and we went back to demonstrate because the lead poisoning had increased during that period,” she said. “We still use the river which is polluted with lead, and our children are still falling sick. What else can we do?”

The factory, managed by Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd., was eventually closed in April 2015 following prolonged public outcry. The Centre for Justice, Governance, and Environmental Action, a local non-governmental organization founded by Omido, has since launched litigation against the factory owners on behalf of the residents of Owino Uhuru. The case will be heard at the Environment and Lands Court in Mombasa in October 2017. The victims want to be compensated for medical complications and deaths that they say arose from the lead contamination.

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