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Mining giant ‘turned blind eye’ to lead poisoning in Zambia

The case has been brought by 12 Kabwe residents who are demanding compensation from the company. 

Mining giant Anglo American knew toxic fumes and dust from a Zambian mine poisoned local women and children but failed to address the issue, lawyers told a South African court Friday.

Lawyers for some of the alleged victims made their case before a Johannesburg court that is to decide whether to give the go ahead to a class action against the firm’s South African subsidiary. 

Anglo ‘knew of dangers’

Anglo American denies responsibility.

The plaintiffs argue that tens of thousands of people living in Kabwe, a town around 150 kilometres (95 miles) north of the Zambian capital Lusaka, have suffered from lead poisoning, which can lead to brain damage and death.

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“Anglo knew of these dangers, or, at best, turned a blind eye to them,” Gilbert Marcus, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs told the court in his opening statement. 

“Children were already falling ill and dying of lead poisoning, and a high proportion of them were suffering from massive blood lead levels while it exercised control over the mine.” 

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Anglo American has said it is not responsible for the pollution, having been only indirectly involved in the mine. 

The case has been brought by 12 Kabwe residents who are demanding compensation from the company. 

They approached a high court in South Africa on behalf of a group of about 140,000 women and children who are believed to have suffered poisoning.

Three UN special rapporteurs — on toxics and human rights, extreme poverty, and persons with disability — have been admitted to the legal proceedings in support of the applicants. 

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The plaintiffs argue that decades of mining have turned Kabwe and the surrounding area into “one of the most polluted places in the world”. 

The Kabwe mine operated from 1906 to 1994. 

Anglo American was directly involved from 1925 to 1974, when it oversaw the works, and provided technical and medical advice, according to the claimants.  

Anglo American ‘never owned’ mine in Zambia

Marcus said the mine’s “toxic legacy” is still being felt because “lead is long-lasting, inter-generational poison”.

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Anglo American said it’s “not correct” to attribute it legal responsibility for the current situation in Kabwe, as it has “never owned nor operated” the mine. 

The site always belonged to state-owned Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines and its “predecessor companies”, it said in a statement on Friday, adding it could not be held liable “for pollution and harm that others have caused and freely acknowledged as their responsibility”. 

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