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Friday, July 3, 2020

Zambian villagers take mining giant Vedanta to court in UK over toxic leaks in Chinglola

Headlines Zambian villagers take mining giant Vedanta to court in UK over toxic...

Water from a borehole drilled by KCM at Shimulala village, Zambia. Photograph: John Vidal for the Observer
Water from a borehole drilled by KCM at Shimulala village, Zambia. Photograph: John Vidal for the Observer

Fears of environmental catastrophe as report finds ‘constant contamination’ of streams around copper mine while locals report health problems and failed crops

A London-listed mining giant has been polluting the drinking water of villages in Zambia and threatening a wider health disaster, the Observer has found.

Leaked documents and a confidential internal report commissioned from Canadian pollution control experts show that Vedanta Resources’ giant mine in Zambia’s Copperbelt region has been spilling sulphuric acid and other toxic chemicals into rivers, streams and underground aquifers used for drinking water near the mining town of Chingola.

The result, say people in four villages living near the giant 12 sq mile mine owned by Vedanta subsidiary KCM, is stomach pains and illnesses, devastated crops, loss of earnings and permanent injuries. The claims of villagers living near one of the largest copper mines in Africa are backed by a leaked letter from a KCM doctor stating that water collected for testing from Shimulala village in 2011 was unfit for human consumption. “The water is acidic and the copper and iron levels exceed permitted levels,” the doctor wrote. “The impurities … can cause cancer in the bloodstream and unhealthy conditions in internal organs. The people in that village should be advised to stop using the same water.”

 Farmer Langsu Mumbelunga in his polluted field near the Mushishima stream, Zambia. Photograph: John Vidal for the Observer
Farmer Langsu Mumbelunga in his polluted field near the Mushishima stream, Zambia. Photograph: John Vidal for the Observer

London law firm Leigh Day has issued proceedings in the high court in London on behalf of 1,800 people who claim to have been affected by the company’s pollution. “The case could take three years to resolve,” said Leigh Day senior partner Martyn Day, recently returned from Zambia, where lawyers and paralegals have been taking witness statements from people living near the rivers and the company’s operations.

A Vedanta spokesman said: “All Vedanta’s operating subsidiaries take the health of their employees, the wellbeing of surrounding communities and the environment very seriously. Our subsidiaries are committed to ensuring they operate in a safe and sustainable way.”

But a scientist who worked for more than 15 years with KCM said there has been little maintenance of critical equipment since Vedanta bought the mine, despite production of some 10,000 tonnes of copper and 300 tonnes of cobalt a year. He accused Vedanta of releasing more acid than it has authority for. “There have been heavy spillages and massive leakages. Acid has been leaking all over the place. The pollution control pond is handling too much material. No effort has been made to correct this scenario. Only one of four [waste] pipelines is running – the rest are in disrepair.

“Degraded equipment, leaking pumps, pipes, thickeners and settling ponds have [resulted in] excessive spillages. Water overflowing into the Mushushima river and subsequently the Kafue river poses a possible environmental catastrophe downstream,” he said.

“The company has very good plans on paper that have not materialised on the ground for the last 10 years. It is absolutely clear that there is a massive problem. Because the river Kafue feeds into the Zambezi river, which provides drinking water for much of Zambia, the pollution could affect hundreds of thousands of people downstream, he said. “A disaster is very likely. It has the potential of affecting people hundreds of miles away. Water supplies could be damaged and aquatic life would die.”

A leaked report by the Canadian engineering company SNC-Lavalin, which in 2010 was employed to advise Vedanta/ KCM on how to control continuing pollution, says that solids, dissolved copper and acids are being spilled. It refers to “constant contamination” of streams, and says the main pollution control dam is often full to capacity. It adds that reservoirs overflow and there are leakages from pipes and a lack of spare parts. The engineers’ report calls for 17 major and minor actions to stop the spillage of polluted water into the environment.


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  1. I pray the people get just compensation and relocate to better areas that are safe for their health.

    • If the PF vultures wont get involved so that they can have some million$$$ disappear. They are already complaining that the $1.25billion will not be enough for their sharing and elections.

    • I f this is what GRZ term as investment at the expense of destroying the environment and the Zambian people, medically, psychologically and physically, they must be sick upstairs. This is very painful and degrading for a country after 50 years of self rule.

    • Chingola is on the Copper belt in Zambia. Used to the the place of the largest copper mine back in the days ..I don’t know if it still is

  2. Meanwhile the GRZ is mute on this matter. Where is the area MP? Is this what PF means in their slogan Donchi kubeba, mwilalilalia ashi! I pity those villagers.

    • It went through the court system. The high court awarded over a million dollars and the Supreme Court cut it to peanuts.

  3. Sad that LT has to source Zambian news from the guardian. Investigative journalism is lost in Zed. The cut and paste generation rules

  4. @John
    These fools thought they could raise $2bn, by disregarding all the foolish things they are doing to the economy. They thought investors cannot see thru their foolishness.

  5. This matter did not get enough traction in the Zambian courts were a whole community was awarded peanuts. Of course Zambians did not protest because we really do not appreciate the value of our environment. KCM should ask BP what the environment costs.

    The truth is that over the many decades of mining our environment has been taking a beating. Look at Kabwe and its lead pollution. The fish we eat from Kafue is also a risk.

  6. this are some of hidden effects of privatisation which the beneficiaries of privatisation of Zambia put underneath the carpet. Lord hear us.

  7. This company gets in the news for all the wrong reasons! And they are used to getting away with it by donating a few crumbs to cover up their irresponsible behaviour.
    I hope these London lawyers sort this thing out for the benefit of the affected villagers.

  8. Its time for new investors who care about the well being of our people. KCM must leave Zambia. Enough is enough. even if it means been broke, we should preserve our home – Zambia. These *****s leave in first world countries were such outrageous behaviour cannot be condoned and yet we allow them to come destroy our country all in the name of investment.

  9. its sad that it had to be london courts to the rescue of our people, our own courts and govt have failled their own people

  10. This is the result of GRZ begging for investors. KCM just bribe the useless politicians to make it difficult for the villagers. Our GRZ should have been pursuing these kind of companies but all they know is to pursue the opposition who’re visiting marketeers. Hope the lawyers in UK will succeed to bring justice to our people.

  11. Pilato, General Kanene and Iris kaingu, ma comments mbwelekete. A sensible topic like nutrition, zero comments. And you wonder why a simple problem like ZESCO load shedding fails to attract a practical solution. Its because as a country we fail to prioritise issues. You mean there is no one at the MoH, NFNC and all these NGOs pretending to promote nutrition who can engage CSO-SUN on this online article whilst they are busy commenting on useless online stories? How can a country still operate on a 1967 act when the technical aspects of nutrition and the governance issues that go with it have been dynamic?

  12. Its actually 250,000 tonnes per year and 300 tonnes of cobalt plus slimes which cost US $10000 per tonne for the last 10 years!

    Am willing to help with info…These economic do****gs have gone too far


  14. When Angro pulled out in 2000 we the Zambians in the help of then acting CEO for KCM Mr Soko.The mine was run very well for 2 years until 2002 when Vendatta took over.Now if the so called Vendatta has failed to comply with Laws of our land,then let the Government take over.I know most of you will argue but in 1999 and down the line the mine was run by the government. The mine raises its own money so there is little to put in.The only challenge may be stealing but it does not mean that we can’t run our own companies with all the educated we have around.

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