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.

  • Anglo American Founder Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, 1954 (when the Mine was an Anglo American mine)
    “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.”
    Anglo American Founder Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, 1954 (when the Mine was an Anglo American mine)
  • – Yabe et al., 2020
    “Childhood lead (Pb) poisoning has devastating effects on neurodevelopment and causes overt clinical signs including convulsions and coma.”
    – Yabe et al., 2020
  • – Bose-O’Reilly, 2018
    “Kabwe has extensive lead contaminated soil and children in Kabwe ingest and inhale high quantities of this toxic dust.”
    – Bose-O’Reilly, 2018
  • – Human Rights Watch, 2019
    “Playing in Kabwe comes with risks. Children cannot be sure of avoiding lead exposure in their own yards, streets, or schools.”
    – Human Rights Watch, 2019
  • – Yabe et al., 2015
    “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.”
    – Yabe et al., 2015
  • – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    “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.”
    – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • – WHO, 2018; Dapul and Laraque, 2014; Miranda et al., 2007; Canfield et al., 2003; Lidsky and Schneider, 2003
    “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.”
    – WHO, 2018; Dapul and Laraque, 2014; Miranda et al., 2007; Canfield et al., 2003; Lidsky and Schneider, 2003
  • – WHO, 2018; Flora et al., 2012; Pearce, 2007
    “If not treated, lead poisoning is characterized by persistent vomiting, anaemia, encephalopathy, lethargy, delirium, convulsions, coma and death.”
    – WHO, 2018; Flora et al., 2012; Pearce, 2007
  • – Byers & Lord, 1943
    “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.”
    – Byers & Lord, 1943
  • Anglo American CEO Duncan Wanblad, 2023

    “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…”

    Anglo American CEO Duncan Wanblad, 2023

In the News

December 10, 2022

Lead mining pollution in Zambia is an ESG test case

Early next year a landmark case will be heard in the South African High Court that will determine if a class action by a community in Zambia should be allowed to proceed after Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, left Kabwe to become “the world’s most toxic town”.

Media Contacts


Children of Kabwe

Email: info@childrenofkabwe.com



Mbuyisa Moleele

Zanele Mbuyisa
Email: zanele@mbmlaw.co.za



Leigh Day

Richard Meeran
Email: rmeeran@leighday.co.uk