Daily Mail

Battle of Broken Hill

Anglo accused of poisoning 100,000 Firm says lead mine claim is opportunis­tic

- By Francesca Washtell

ANGLO AMERICAN faces a major legal battle over claims that one of its mines in Zambia poisoned 100,000 people including babies, pregnant women and children.

In the latest scandal to rock a top mining company, a class action lawsuit has been filed against the FTSE100 group in South Africa.

But boss Mark Cutifani has slammed the case as ‘opportunis­tic and completely misdirecte­d’ – and the company insists it was never responsibl­e for the site.

A lead mine in the Zambian town of Kabwe is alleged to have been under the control of Anglo’s South African arm from the 1920s until 1974, when it was nationalis­ed.

The site, previously known as Broken Hill, was worked between 1904 and 1994. For decades, rocks were dug up and crushed to extract lead but in the process particles of the deadly metal swept over the town, seeping into the ground, homes and bodies.

South African law firm Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys and London group Leigh Day have launched a class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 100,000 children and mothers in Kabwe. It is still being reviewed and has not yet been brought to trial, though industry sources say it is likely.

The firms say Anglo had a key role in managing the mine at a time when the worst of the environmen­tal destructio­n was wreaked. They claim Anglo knew it was causing health issues but did not do enough to stop the damage.

The lawsuit aims to set up a longterm programme to test blood lead levels, and for Anglo to shoulder the clean-up costs. Richard Meeran, partner and head of the internatio­nal department at Leigh Day, said: ‘An environmen­tal and public health crisis of the magnitude of Kabwe’s would be considered a corporate scandal if it occurred in the UK or US.

‘It also serves as a stark illustrati­on of what happened in the past when large multinatio­nal mining companies were effectivel­y given free rein to exploit the resources and people in southern Africa, with tragic human consequenc­es.’

Studies of the area, which has a population of 230,000, show it has concentrat­ions of lead up to 150 times higher than safe limits. Campaigner­s from groups including Amnesty Internatio­nal claim it is the world’s ‘most toxic lead mine’.

Kabwe was included in an eight-year World Bank scheme to clean up Zambian mines, and as part of this the Bank’s representa­tive showed local officials the Julia Roberts film Erin Brockovich, about a class action lawsuit against a water company. Lead poisoning can ruin the nervous system and damage organs including the heart, kidneys and brain.

Children are especially vulnerable, and it is associated with higher rates of miscarriag­e. Around 75pc of Kabwe’s population are thought to have significan­t levels of lead in their blood.

Anglo wholly rejects the lawsuit’s claims, saying it was ‘far from being the majority owner’ of Kabwe and that after it was nationalis­ed it was the country’s state-owned mining firm that was responsibl­e for its closure.

Long-time chief executive Cutifani has previously said that the claim is ‘opportunis­tic and misdirecte­d’. He steps down as Anglo boss in April to be replaced by strategy director Duncan Wanblad, who will steer the company through the legal battle if it goes to trial.

In a responding affidavit to the case filed by Anglo in August, it blames the Zambian state mining group, ZCCM, and the Zambian government for the problems at the site. The law firms are due to file another response in February, and a decision on a trial will be made within the coming months.

A source close to the company said Leigh Day’s claims were ‘extremely selective in nature’ and that there was clear evidence that operating standards deteriorat­ed at the mine when ZCCM took over, which is probably when most of the pollution occurred.

In a statement, the company said that it had ‘every sympathy for the people of Kabwe and their plight’.

But it added: ‘Between 1925 to 1974, Anglo American South Africa held a shareholdi­ng in the company that operated the mine.

‘Anglo American provided certain services to the mine, but at no stage owned or operated the mine.’

The battle comes as big mining companies’ social responsibi­lity has been thrust under the spotlight after Rio Tinto blew up two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal caves in Australia last year to extend an iron ore mine.

The disaster sparked investor outcry, a boardroom clearout and an Australian parliament­ary inquiry.

Another of Anglo’s peers, BHP, has for years been paying compensati­on and trying to repair its reputation after a waste dam at an iron ore mine in Brazil burst in 2015, killing 19.

‘Tragic human consequenc­es’

 ?? ?? Pollution from the plant at Kabwe (above right) has left a deadly legacy on the streets as locals and visitors protect themselves
Pollution from the plant at Kabwe (above right) has left a deadly legacy on the streets as locals and visitors protect themselves
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom