Diversified miner Anglo American (LON: AAL) has been sued in South Africa by a group of Zambian women and children alleging the company caused widespread lead poisoning from a mine it owned until 1974 in the northern city of Kabwe.
The class action lawsuit, filed at South Africa’s High Court on Wednesday by law firms Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day, seeks compensation for about 100,000 people and a clean-up of the area.
“Generations of children have been poisoned by the operations of the Kabwe mine, originally known as Broken Hill, which caused widespread contamination of the soil, dust, water and vegetation,” the firms said in a statement. “The main sources of this poisonous lead were from the smelter, ore processing and tailings dumps.”
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.
They argue the company had “a duty of care” to protect existing and future generations of residents of Kabwe.
Anglo American said in an emailed statement it would review the claims and “take all necessary steps to vigorously defend its position.”
Lead is considered a highly poisonous material and, according to the World Health Organization, there is “no level of lead exposure that is known to be without harmful effects.”
Exposure to high levels of lead could impair growth, damage organs such as the liver and brain and increase the risk of miscarriage, a recent report by Human Rights Watch showed
Another study, involving 1,190 people in Kabwe, called exposure levels there “alarming”. The authors said last year their paper was the first to reveal “the true extent” of lead exposure in the whole Kabwe town.
More to come…