Zambia: Lead poisoning having disastrous effects on children’s heath; HRW report

Lead exposure around a former lead and zinc mine in Zambia is having disastrous effects on children’s health, according to Human Rights Watch. The Zambian government should promptly clean up the contamination and ensure proper treatment for all who need it. The report titled, “‘We Have to Be Worried’: The Impact of Lead Contamination on Children’s Rights in Kabwe, Zambia,” examines the effects of lead contamination in Kabwe, a provincial capital, on children’s rights to health, a healthy environment, education, and play. Twenty-five years after the mine closed, children living in nearby townships continue to be exposed to high levels of toxic lead in soil and dust in their homes, backyards, schools, play areas, and other public spaces. The Zambian government’s efforts to address the environmental and health consequences of the widespread lead contamination have not thus far been sufficient, and parents struggle to protect their children.

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Article
18 September 2019

Zambia: Mining company to start cleaning up the environmental mess left at mine

Author: Allan Seccombe, Business Day (South Africa)

‘Kabwe’s pollution headache is Jubilee’s big opportunity’ 17 September 2019

Jubilee Metals is on the cusp of starting the production of copper and other base metals, including lead, in Zambia from its Kabwe project.  London-based law firm Leigh Day, which contests human rights cases, has teamed up with Johannesburg-based law firm Mbuyisa Moleele to prepare a class-action case on behalf of communities around Kabwe and will file it in the Johannesburg high court after a two-year investigation into lead poisoning in communities around the defunct mine.

Jubilee has bought tailings and a refinery plant in Kabwe and will begin producing copper cathode before the end of 2019, with zinc and vanadium output starting before June 2020 and the third quarter of the same year, respectively. Lead will start flowing before the end of that year...“This situation is ideal for the Jubilee team to exploit through implementing its processing operations to create value from the metal rich tailings, while alleviating the environmental issues.”

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Article
9 September 2019

Zambia: Communities still suffer from lead poisoning decades after mine closures

‘Toxic mines poison locals long after closure’ 5 September 2019

“Henry” is thin and small for his age. The 10-year-old, his mum and I are sitting outside in the dusty, poor township of Waya in the Zambian city of Kabwe on a hot, dry afternoon. His mum, looking weary, describes their life near the city’s former lead and zinc mine. She worries about her children’s health and tells Henry and his siblings to avoid the dust that blows over from there. A few years ago, Henry was found to have extremely high amounts of lead in his blood, high enough to warrant immediate treatment, according to medical experts. But he never received any medical care.

More than 6-million tons of mining waste remain in place, and dust from these uncovered waste dumps blows over nearby residential areas. The most visible dump is known locally as the “Black Mountain”. About half of the children living in the affected neighbourhoods need medical treatment, experts say. Lead can cause stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, organ damage, coma and convulsions, and even death. Children are particularly vulnerable.

When Human Rights Watch visited Kabwe in 2018 public health facilities had no kits for lead testing, nor any medicine. Many residents said they felt fearful, and helpless. “You see dust is everywhere. It is all over. So, this lead just can’t stop spreading,” Henry’s mother told me. “The president should bring us medicine,” Henry added. The Zambian government has issued a large-scale mining licence to British company Berkeley Mineral Resources (BMR), which is planning to reprocess lead, zinc and vanadium from the mine’s waste in a joint business venture with SA company Jubilee Metals. Human Rights Watch wrote to both companies asking what they were doing to prevent harm; BMR referred us to Jubilee Metals, and Jubilee Metals did not respond.

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Article
26 August 2019

Zambia: Effective cleanup, health services sesperately needed near former lead mine to save children.

Author: Human Rights Watch

Zambia: Effective cleanup, health services sesperately needed near former lead mine to save children.

‘Lead Contamination Imperils Children’ 23 August 2019

 Lead exposure around a former lead and zinc mine in Zambia is having disastrous effects on children’s health, Human Rights Watch said today. The Zambian government should promptly clean up the contamination and ensure proper treatment for all who need it. The 88-page report, “‘We Have to Be Worried’: The Impact of Lead Contamination on Children’s Rights in Kabwe, Zambia,” examines the effects of lead contamination in Kabwe, a provincial capital, on children’s rights to health, a healthy environment, education, and play. Twenty-five years after the mine closed, children living in nearby townships continue to be exposed to high levels of toxic lead in soil and dust in their homes, backyards, schools, play areas, and other public spaces. The Zambian government’s efforts to address the environmental and health consequences of the widespread lead contamination have not thus far been sufficient, and parents struggle to protect their children.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 residents of townships near the former mine, including the parents or guardians of 60 children who had been tested since the last government cleanup project ended and found to have elevated lead levels. Human Rights Watch found that government-run health facilities in Kabwe currently have no chelation medicine for treating lead poisoning or lead test kits in stock, and no health database has been established to track cases of children who died or were hospitalized because of high lead levels. Education for children with disabilities or learning barriers is a country-wide challenge in Zambia, and in Kabwe, the disability screening process does not even investigate lead-related causes.

…The government should also deepen its efforts to address lead-associated disabilities or learning barriers, given the likelihood that these affect children in Kabwe, Human Rights Watch said. Schools should ensure that they adequately respond to the needs of many children facing learning disabilities or barriers potentially connected to lead poisoning, and that they provide the needed accommodations and individual learning support. If small-scale mining is to continue, the government should ensure that operations are licensed, regularly monitored, and only conducted in accordance with mining regulations and the law. The government should scrutinize any future waste processing project for potential human rights and environmental impact.

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Article
26 August 2019

Zambia: Mining company denies allegation that it is responsible for lead poising as law firm prepares for legal action

Author: David Mckay, Miningmx, South Africa

‘Anglo denies responsibility for Zambia lead mine poisoning as attorneys line up class action’

There’s trouble brewing for Anglo American after the law firm that took Vedanta to court regarding community abuses in Zambia has now turned its attention to allegations of lead poisoning at the UK mining group’s now closed Kabwe mine, also in Zambia. Johannesburg attorney, Mbuyisa Moleele, in collaboration with Leigh Day, a UK- based human rights attorneys, said they were preparing a legal class action case against Anglo American SA on behalf of Zambian communities. Anglo American contends it was only one of several investors that owned Kabwe through the years and was never the majority owner. “In the early 1970’s the company that owned the mine was nationalised by the Government of Zambia and for more than 20 years thereafter the mine was operated by a State-owned body until its closure in 1994,” it said.

The case will say activities at Anglo’s Kabwe lead mine, which operated from 1915 to 1994 and was for a while the world’s largest, was responsible for lead poisoning of tens of thousands of Kabwe residents. “Very high levels” of lead has been detected in the blood of “a substantial proportion of the local population” the two law firms said citing “a series of published reports”. Kabwe has been the centre of lead and zinc mining since the minerals were first discovered in 1902. It is located in Zambia’s Central Province, about 142 kilometres north of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

Said Anglo: “We were concerned to learn of the situation at Kabwe as reported by the press, but since the nationalisation more than 40 years ago effectively placed these issues under the control of the Zambian Government, we are not in a position to comment further about the matter, but we certainly don’t believe that Anglo American is in any way responsible for the current situation”. “This is the worst environmental disaster I have seen in 30 years of practice,” said Richard Meeran, partner and head of Leigh Day’s International Department, in a statement. “There is incontrovertible evidence of massive lead contamination of soil in local villages and of staggeringly high levels of lead in the blood of a substantial proportion of the local population in Kabwe, particularly among very young children,” he said. Leigh Day crosses swords with the world’s mining sector on a regular basis. Most recently, the company succeeded in having a class action case on behalf of 2,000 villagers allegedly negatively affected by mining operations undertaken by Vedanta subsidiary, Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia heard in the UK courts.

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Article
26 August 2019

Zambia: More than one third of the population of Kabwe, live in lead-contaminated townships; children most affected; HRW report

Author: Human Rights Watch

“We Have to Be Worried”The Impact of Lead Contamination on Children’s Rights in Kabwe, Zambia, 23 August 2019

More than one third of the population of Kabwe, Zambia— over 76,000 people—live in lead-contaminated townships. Studies estimate that half of the children in these areas have elevated blood lead levels that warrant medical treatment.

… Twenty-five years after the mine closed, high lead levels, exceeding international standards, remain in the soil and dust around the former mine, particularly in the townships of Kasanda, Makandanyama, Chowa, Mutwe Wansofu, and Makululu in Kabwe. The former mine area itself still hosts tailings and other waste from the mine and smelter, including a large waste dump known locally as “Black Mountain,” and has become a site for artisanal and small-scale mining.

Children in Kabwe are especially at risk because they are more likely to ingest lead dust when playing in the soil, their brains and bodies are still developing, and they absorb four to five times as much lead as adults. The consequences for children who are exposed to high levels of lead and are not treated include reading and learning barriers or disabilities; behavioral problems; impaired growth; anemia; brain, liver, kidney, nerve, and stomach damage; coma and convulsions; and death. After prolonged exposure, the effects are irreversible. Lead also increases the risk of miscarriage and can be transmitted through both the placenta and breastmilk.

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Article
26 August 2019

Zambia: International law firm, Leigh Day prepares a class action case against Anglo American Ltd on behalf of Zambian communities living near Kabwe mine and suffering from lead exposure

Author: Leigh Day

‘Zambian lead poisoning victims prepare to launch class action against Anglo American South Africa’ 23 August 2019

Kabwe was the world’s largest lead mine and operated from around 1915 until its closure in 1994. From 1925 to 1974, its most productive period, the mine was owned and operated and/or managed by Anglo American South Africa Ltd. The mine is situated in close proximity to villages comprising around 230,000 residents. Tens of thousands of Kabwe residents are estimated to have developed high blood lead levels, mainly through ingestion of dust contaminated by emissions from the mine smelter and waste dumps. A series of published reports has found very high levels of lead in the blood of a substantial proportion of the local population, in particular very young children.

Johannesburg attorneys, Mbuyisa Moleele, in collaboration with London-based human rights law firm, Leigh Day, have been investigating the case and liaising with the local communities for the past two years. They have so far been instructed on behalf of almost 200 children who have been treated for lead poisoning. They are preparing the class action in South Africa and an application to certify a class action will be filed in the Johannesburg High Court. The purpose of the action will be to secure compensation for victims of lead poisoning, including the cost of an effective medical monitoring system for blood lead levels among the community.      

…“This is the worst environmental disaster I have seen in 30 years of practice.  There is incontrovertible evidence of massive lead contamination of soil in local villages and of staggeringly high levels of lead in the blood of a substantial proportion of the local population in Kabwe, particularly among very young children. This would not have been tolerated in Europe or the US. As a major multinational that holds itself out as a responsible corporate citizen, we believe Anglo American should compensate the lead poisoning victims and assist, practically and financially in the prevention of ongoing lead poisoning of these communities.”    

 

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