A class action lawsuit has been filed against the mining company Anglo American over its alleged failure to prevent widespread toxic lead pollution in the Zambian town of Kabwe. The town hosted one of the world’s biggest lead mines for many decades and scientists have reported “alarming” levels of lead in people’s blood.
“The public environmental health disaster left behind by Anglo means there are more than 100,000 children and women of childbearing age in Kabwe who are likely to have suffered lead poisoning as a result of pollution caused by Anglo,” according to the filed legal documents.
Well, yes, lead mining might well do that. Especially when it started around the turn of the last century. You’re still advised not to eat the cabbages (which selectively absorb lead and cadmium) in Chilcompton for the same reason.
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. Anglo had “a duty of care to protect existing and future generations of residents of Kabwe”, according to the legal documents.
Well, not wholly and entirely. The mine came before the people. But that’s not the major issue here:
The class action alleges that Anglo America is liable for substantial emissions of lead into the local environment due to deficiencies in the operation of the mine and for failing to ensure the clean-up of contaminated land. The mine was transferred to a Zambian state-owned company in 1974 and closed in 1994.
Transferred is a delicate word. It was nationalised. And that’s one of them things. You take over another company and sure, you get the benefits. You also get the costs. As vast numbers of companies have found out with, say, asbestos. You buy – just as a theoretical example you understand – some company in the 1980s which used asbestos in the 1950s and you’re responsible now laddie. You end up paying now for the damage caused by the pollution then.
That inheritance of liabilities doesn’t go away just because you’re a government….