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Zambia - lead pollution

Leigh Day, in conjunction with Johannesburg attorneys Mbuyisa Moleele are currently preparing a class action against Anglo American South Africa Ltd in the Johannesburg High Court on behalf of Zambian communities living in the vicinity of the Kabwe lead mine who are suffering from lead poisoning. The purpose of the legal 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.      

Former-Kabwe-mine-and-mine-dump.jpgKabwe 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.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some of the problems associated with lead poisoning in children range from reduced IQ, behavioural problems and reduced growth to severe anaemia and kidney damage, and in the worst cases can cause brain damage and even death.

In Kabwe, in young children aged up to five years old, published studies have consistently found massively elevated BLLs. In the most affected townships around Kabwe around 50% of children have BLLs higher than 45μg/dL the threshold above which medical antidote treatment is required. Nearly all the children in these areas have BLLs above 20 μg/dL, the level at which urgent action is required to reduce exposure.

Affected-community-members.jpgThe scale of this environmental health disaster has been evident for decades. For example, a 1972 medical journal article referred to extreme lead pollution in the Kabwe area. A 1975 thesis by a Dr A.R.L. Clark from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that children in Kasanda, Kabwe District, especially infants of 1-3 years, had strikingly high average BLLs of up to 103 μg/dL.
 
The case will be brought in the South African courts where the head office company and proposed defendant, Anglo American South Africa Ltd, is based.  It is alleged that from 1925 to 1974, Anglo American SA played a key role in the management of the medical, engineering and other technical services at the mine, and that it failed to take adequate steps to prevent lead poisoning of the local residents. 

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