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A class action lawsuit has been filed against the mining company Anglo American over its alleged failure to prevent widespread toxic lead pollution in the Zambian town of Kabwe. The town hosted one of the world’s biggest lead mines for many decades and scientists have reported “alarming” levels of lead in people’s blood.
“The public environmental health disaster left behind by Anglo means there are more than 100,000 children and women of childbearing age in Kabwe who are likely to have suffered lead poisoning as a result of pollution caused by Anglo.”
The lawyers argue that Anglo American’s South African subsidiary is liable as it was responsible for the mine from 1925 to 1974 and that this was when the majority of the pollution was caused. Anglo had “a duty of care to protect existing and future generations of residents of Kabwe.”
Lead has long been known to be highly poisonous and there is “no level of lead exposure that is known to be without harmful effects”, according to the World Health Organization. “Childhood lead poisoning has devastating effects on neurological development and causes overt clinical signs including convulsions and coma,” said the scientists.
The case is being brought by 13 representative plaintiffs. Some are children with very high blood lead levels and others are women, as lead pollution poses great risks to foetuses during pregnancy.
Anglo American’s human rights policy states: “Where we have caused or contributed to adverse human rights impacts we will contribute to their remediation as appropriate.”
Richard Meeran, at Leigh Day, a UK-based legal firm acting for the plaintiffs, said operating a large mine close to communities was a clear risk: “Unfortunately, it appears that Anglo failed to ensure that sufficient measures were in place.”