In Kabwe, Zambia, over 100,000 women and children are thought to have sustained lead poisoning.
Tens of thousands of children and women of child-bearing age in Kabwe, Zambia allege that they have been poisoned by lead left behind by the Kabwe Mine, formerly known as the Broken Hill Mine (‘the Mine’), which was within the Anglo- American Group for almost 50 years.
Lead poisoning can cause serious and often irreversible permanent damage to organs and the neurological system.
International standard-setting bodies, including the World Health Organisation (‘WHO’) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (‘CDC’), conclude that there is no safe level of lead and that Blood Lead Levels (‘BLLs’) as low as 3.5µg/dl can cause cognitive impairment and behavioural problems. Both organisations recommend that public health actions and medical monitoring should be initiated from a BLL of 3.5 µg/dL.
Nearly all of the children in the most aﬀected villages around Kabwe have BLLs above 10μg/dl. Worse still, various studies have found that in the most affected townships around half of the children up to 5 years old have BLLs higher than 45μg/dl, the threshold above which medical antidote treatment, such as chelation therapy, is required.
Victims of this poisoning have now brought class action proceedings against Anglo American South Africa Limited (‘AASA’) in the Johannesburg High Court on behalf of an estimated 140,000 women and children. They are claiming compensation for their injuries, the costs of monitoring their BLLs and the costs of cleaning up their home environment.
The scale of lead contamination in Kabwe is devastating. Evidence shows that Anglo American was aware of widespread lead poisoning of local children and the environment while it was involved in managing and providing technical advice relating to medical and environmental operations of the Mine. This situation would not have been allowed to endure if it had happened in the Global North.
AASA shareholders were the financial beneficiaries of Kabwe for many years.
Anglo American is expanding its operations world-wide. We believe it is important that anyone working with Anglo American now or in the future understands its toxic legacy in Kabwe.
From the 1950s Anglo American publicly committed to making a lasting contribution to the communities in which it operated. Its current Human Rights policy is to contribute to remediation when its business has contributed to adverse human rights impacts. Anglo American's legacy in Kabwe stands in stark contrast to the these statements.
“The aim of this Group is, and will remain, to earn profits for our shareholders, but to do so in such a way as to make a real and lasting contribution to the communities in which we operate.”
“Childhood lead (Pb) poisoning has devastating effects on neurodevelopment and causes overt clinical signs including convulsions and coma.”
“Kabwe has extensive lead contaminated soil and children in Kabwe ingest and inhale high quantities of this toxic dust.”
“Playing in Kabwe comes with risks. Children cannot be sure of avoiding lead exposure in their own yards, streets, or schools.”
“Childhood Pb poisoning in Zambia’s Kabwe mining town is among the highest in the world, especially in children under the age of 3 years. Lead exposure among children is associated with developmental abnormalities including impaired cognitive function, reduced intelligence, impaired hearing and reduced stature.”
“Lead has been shown to affect virtually every organ and system in the body…the most sensitive effects of lead appear to be neurological (particularly in children), hematological, and cardiovascular.”
“Lead poisoning has devastating effects on neurodevelopment, such as mental retardation and lowering of intelligence quotient (IQ) in children, which may further result in poor school performance, lower tertiary education attainment, behavioural disorders and poor lifetime earnings.”
“If not treated, lead poisoning is characterized by persistent vomiting, anaemia, encephalopathy, lethargy, delirium, convulsions, coma and death.”
“After recovery from their lead poisoning…children made an extremely poor record in competition with their fellows. Their difficulties were in relation to both the intellectual and the emotional spheres.”
“We act as a development partner to help improve lives by catalysing thriving communities with diversified economies that endure and prosper well beyond our presence…”