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Amazingly no, this isn’t how it works

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.

However:

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….

10 thoughts on “Amazingly no, this isn’t how it works”

  1. Really? They are suing the people with deep pockets to line their own? As an excuse to appear environmentally responsible and signal their virtue? What a screwed up world. And seriously? Pre-‘74 liability? Good luck proving that is the proximal cause. This is a publicity stunt.

  2. If the mine has been state-controlled since 1974 then all the children and women of child-bearing age suffering from lead poisoning have been poisoned by the Zambian state.
    Yet again, Africans demand compensation from whitey for their own uselessness.

  3. ‘… who are likely to have suffered..’

    Likely? That’s rather weak. Either they have or haven’t suffered. Lead poisoning is easily detected by a blood test from a finger prick.

    So legal fishing trip hoping big bad company will settle out of court with a big, fat bung.

  4. That inheritance of liabilities doesn’t go away just because you’re a government….

    Sure it does – governments have the guns. Anglo-American does not. Hence the lawyers aren’t going after the guys with guns and the reputation for using them but for the guys without.

  5. I understand that you can still detect lead in the UK from Roman mining activities. When are the Italians going to pay up?

    Ottokring: I found the Chevron mess to be fascinating. The company appear to be acting just like the environmentalists.

  6. ‘there is “no level of lead exposure that is known to be without harmful effects”, according to the World Health Organization.’

    Absoluteley false. They are lying sacks of excrement.

    webmd:

    ‘Lead levels in the blood are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). According to the CDC, lead blood levels of 5* mcg/dL are considered higher than a normal or safe level in children. If your child’s blood lead level is 45 mcg/dL or higher, they’ll need treatment to bring the level down. Any elevated test result means your child has been exposed to lead. Try to find the sources of lead exposure in your home or elsewhere in your child’s environment.

    In adults, lead blood levels up to 10 mcg/dL are considered normal. Anywhere from 10 to 25 mcg/dL is a sign that you’re regularly exposed to lead. At 80 mcg/dL, you should consider treatment. Levels lower than 80 mcg/dl with symptoms may also indicate a need for treatment.’

    *Not long ago, it was 10 mcg/dL for children. Plumbumphobia presses on.

  7. The link in the “Seeking Alpha” article takes you to Bloomberg where they include one comment – “Anglo was never the majority owner of the mine”.
    So Leigh Day (remember the phoney Iraq lawsuits?) is suing a minority shareholder in a limited liability company for damages based on a claim that said part-owned company deposited lead in heaps that were allowed to leach into groundwater under Zambian government management decades later.
    Anglo will never recover its defence costs from the plaintiffs so someone assumes that they will pay greenmail as it’s cheaper.

  8. ‘suing a minority shareholder in a limited liability company for damages based on a claim that said part-owned company deposited lead’

    “A minority shareholder” is a false characterization. They weren’t shareholders, they were partners.

    Being a minority partner is not insulation from liability.

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