Mining firm faces pollution allegations in Zambia

London-listed Vedanta Mining (LON:VED) will be in court to defend itself against claims by hundreds of Zambian villagers that its copper mining operations polluted a water source and farmland.

Law firm Leigh Day initiated proceedings on Friday at the London High Court on behalf of 1,800 villagers. The villagers are suing Vedanta over claims that the firm, along with Zambia-based Konkola Copper Mines, poisoned water and land used for farming. Vedanta has a controlling share in Konkola Copper Mines.

In a statement, Leigh Day alleges that "since the take-over in 2004 Vedanta Resources mining operations have been continually spilling sulphuric acid and other toxic chemicals into the rivers, streams and farmland near to where the communities live and farm." The lawyers say the pollution primarily stems from the tailings leach plant.

"The communities, Shimulala, Kakosa, Hippo Pool and Hellen claim that polluted water is affecting their health and causing illnesses and permanent injuries. Without piped water from the mains supply, their primary source of water for drinking, washing, bathing and irrigating farms are these waters," the statement continues.

Along with health effects, the pollution has also devastated crops and greatly affected fishing, thus impacting the earnings of the local people, according to Leigh Day.

“These communities have been suffering greatly for the last ten years with nothing being done to assist them or to stop the pollution," said senior partner Martyn Day.

A spokesman for Vedanta said it will investigate the allegations and is seeking additional information from the plaintiff's lawyers, before providing a full response.

"All Vedanta's operating subsidiaries take the health and safety of their employees, the wellbeing of surrounding communities and the environment very seriously," the spokesman was quoted by Reuters.

Former Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) CEO Tom Albanese took the helm of Vedanta, a major metal and oil producer, in March 2014. The company has operations in India, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Liberia, Ireland and Australia.

The allegations against it come after a federal judge in June ruled that two mines owned by the second-largest U.S. coal producer, Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR) in West Virginia, illegally polluted streams.