Saturday, 15 September 2007

Kabwe one of the ten worst polluted places

A study by the Blacksmith Institute found Kabwe to be one of the ten worst polluted places in the world due mostly to heavy metal (mostly zinc and lead) tailings making their way into the local water supply:

Kabwe, the second largest city in Zambia, is located about 150 km north of the nation's capital, Lusaka, and is one of six towns in the Copperbelt, once Zambia's thriving industrial base. In 1902, rich deposits of lead were discovered there. Mining and smelting commenced soon after and ran almost continuously until 1994 without addressing the potential dangers of lead contamination. The mine and smelter are no longer operating but have left a city poisoned by debilitating concentrations of lead dust in the soil and by metals in the water. In one study, the dispersal in soils of lead, cadmium, copper, and zinc extended over a 20 km radius at levels much higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization.

A small waterway runs from the mine to the center of town and has been used to carry waste from the once active smelter. There are no safeguards or restrictions on use of the waterway and local children use it for bathing. In addition to contaminated water, dry, dusty, lead-laced soils near workers' home are a significant source of contamination for the locals. Most workers and residents are exposed to toxic levels of lead through inhaling dust in these areas.

In some neighbourhoods in Kabwe, blood concentrations of 200 µg/dl or more have been recorded in children and records show average blood levels of children range between 50 and 100 µg/dl. On average, children's blood lead levels in Kabwe are 5 to 10 times the permissible EPA maximum and in many cases are close to those regarded as potentially fatal. Children who play in the soil and young men who scavenge the mines for scraps of metal are most susceptible to lead produced by the mine and smelter.