Anglo American South Africa has noted a class action lawsuit filed against it by Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys and Leigh Day in the Gauteng High Court, related to lead poisoning claims stemming from the Kabwe mine, in Zambia.
The lawyers filed the lawsuit on behalf of a class estimated to comprise more than 100 000 individuals in the Kabwe district of Zambia. The claimants believe they have been exposed to lead contamination.
The claimants, which include young children, are reportedly suffering from alarming levels of lead poisoning, which can cause a range of psychological and intellectual conditions, as well as damage to bodily organs, neurological systems and fertility.
In extreme cases, lead poisoning can lead to serious brain damage and death. For conceiving women, lead is known to result in the unborn child being subjected to the same concentration of lead as the mother and can hold various risks to the foetus and the mother.
A press release issued by the law firms alleges that generations of children have been poisoned by the operations of the Kabwe mine, originally called Broken Hill, which they also say has caused widespread contamination of soil, dust, water and vegetation in the area.
The main sources of this poisonous lead were from the mine’s smelter, ore processing operation and tailings dumps, the firms state.
The lawyers say the Kabwe mine was part of the Anglo American South Africa group from 1925 until 1974 and was one of the world’s most productive lead mines during this time.
In response to Mining Weekly, Anglo American South Africa says it was one of a number of investors in the company that owned the Kabwe mine until the early 1970s and was, at all times, far from being a majority owner.
In 1974, the company that owned the mine was nationalised by the Zambian government. It was then managed by a Zambian State-owned mining company up to 1994 when the mine was closed down.
The lawyers believe Anglo is liable for damages in that it had a role in controlling, managing, supervising and advising on the technical, medical and safety aspects of the mine’s operations.
The lawyers claim that substantial emissions of lead into the local environment were owing to deficiencies in the design and systems of operation and control of lead. They also believe that Anglo failed to ensure the clean-up of the communities’ contaminated land.
The lawyers cite experts who claim that about two-thirds of the lead currently in the Kabwe environment is likely to have been deposited there between 1925 and 1974 when Anglo American South Africa owned a stake in the mine’s controlling company.
Anglo says it will review the claims made and will take all necessary steps to vigorously defend its position in the matter.