JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Anglo American (L:) Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said on Friday it was not responsible for lead poisoning at a Zambian lead mine it part-owned nearly 50 years ago and planned to defend itself after a class action was filed against the miner.
The class action suit was filed last week by South African law firm Mbuyisa Moleele and UK-based Leigh Day on behalf of what they say is estimated to be more than 100,000 individuals over allegations of negligence.
“We intend to defend our position as we don’t believe Anglo American is responsible for the current situation,” Cutifani said during the presentation of a company sustainability report.
The class action, which is seeking compensation for girls and women with lead poisoning who have or may become pregnant as well as clean-up and remediation of the area, alleges that Anglo American South Africa (AASA) is liable for the lead emissions.
The lawsuit says the company did not rectify design deficiencies which led to the lead emissions and failed to ensure clean-up of the contaminated land before the mine was taken over in 1974 by ZCCM, a state-owned company.
Cutifani said they were however concerned about the situation at the Kabwe mine, which lies 140 km (87 miles) north of Lusaka.
“Contamination is just not acceptable anywhere,” said Cutifani.
Human Rights Watch, which last year released a report on Kabwe found that more than a third of people lived in lead-contaminated townships due to the mine’s activities.
Exposure to high levels of lead, which children are particularly susceptible to, could impair growth, damage organs such as the liver and brain and increase the risk of miscarriage, the report said.
Leigh Day was one of the firms that represented thousands of miners who contracted silicosis and tuberculosis, potentially fatal lung diseases, in a 5-billion-rand ($309.36 million) class action settlement with gold mining companies including Anglo American.
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