Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani said on Friday the company was not responsible for lead poisoning in Zambia at a lead mine it part-owned nearly 50 years ago and planned to defend itself after a class action was filed against the miner over allegations of negligence.
“We intend to defend out position as we don’t believe Anglo American is responsible for the current situation,” said Cutifani said during the presentation of a company sustainability report.
South African law firm Mbuyisa Moleele and UK-based Leigh Day filed the class action suit last week on behalf of what they say is estimated to be more than 100,000 individuals.
Lead is considered a highly poisonous material and, according to the World Health Organization, there is “no level of lead exposure that is known to be without harmful effects.”
Exposure to high levels of lead could impair growth, damage organs such as the liver and brain and increase the risk of miscarriage, a recent report by Human Rights Watch showed.
A study of 1,190 people in Kabwe called exposure levels there “alarming”. The authors said they had found average blood lead levels were above what it’s considered high by US authorities in all but one of 13 districts in the town.
In the most affected area, researchers found average levels nine times above the US threshold.
The scientists noted lead poisoning, especially in children, has devastating effects on neurological development and can cause clinical signs such as convulsions and coma.
The Zambian government, with support from the World Bank, kicked off in 2015 a $60-million initiative aimed at rehabilitating the Kabwe region, among others.
ZCCM said at the time that the program “aimed at mitigating the impact of lead poisoning on human health and the environment,” from 1994 to 2010.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, however, said most of the pollution happened when the mine was part of Anglo American South Africa.
(With files from Reuters)