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Lead-acid battery smelter and government bodies found guilty of poisoning Kenyan villages

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 09:55 -- Paul Crompton
Image: the lead-acid battery smelter looms over the village it poisoned. Photo courtesy of Owino Uhuru resident Phyllis Omido

A court in Africa has found Indian-owned recycler Metal Refinery and a number of Kenya’s government bodies guilty of allowing contamination from a lead-acid battery smelter to poison villages. 

The Environment and Land Court has ordered a total of five respondents to pay Sh1.3 billion ($12 million) to residents of Owino Uhuru slums in Chagamwe, Mombasa County, Kenya.

In her ruling on 14 July, Justice Ann Omollo ordered state agencies responsible for the environment to clean up any remaining lead deposits in the soil and water within the next four months and remove any wastes deposited within the settlement.

Failure to comply with the order will result in a further Sh700 million ($6 million) fine.

In 2016, the Mombasa-based environment and human rights organisation Centre for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA) instituted a class action lawsuit on behalf of the Owino Uhuru community in a Kenyan Environment and Land Court in relation to the lead contamination and poisoning.

Complaints emerged from the community following the opening of Metal Refinery’s smelting plant in 2007, which recycled used lead-acid batteries in Owino Uhuru.

Claimants alleged people had been affected by diverse health and environmental impacts, including at least 20 deaths from lead poisoning and respiratory diseases, since the opening of the plant. 

Soil tests showed lead levels increased almost tenfold between 2008 and 2009, when the plant became operational, with a report indicating the lead levels within the soil in the 13.5-acre village were 40mg/ft2.

The smelter closed in 2014, following community pressure and campaigning by the CJGEA.

Percentages of the fine will be paid by the respondents depending on their level of culpability. 

The respondents included: Kenya’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (10%); Kenya’s Ministry of Health (10%); government agency The National Environment Management Authority (40%); The Export Processing Zones Authority (10%); Metal Refinery (25%); and Hezron Awiti’s Penguin Paper and Book Co (5%)— the company, owned by former Nyali MP Hezron Awiti, that leased land to Metals refinery.

Read an in-depth report on the humanitarian-angle of the story HERE

To read more independant consultant Brian Wilson's recomendations on how to build a legally sound lead-acid plant in an emerging country, click HERE.

Image: the lead-acid battery smelter looms over the village it poisoned. Photo courtesy of Owino Uhuru resident Phyllis Omido

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