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Southern Africa: UN Experts to Intervene in Zambia Lead Pollution Case

A South African court has allowed a group of UN-appointed experts to intervene in a class action lawsuit against a mining company based in Zambia, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, reported on Thursday.

The lawsuit against mining giant Anglo American was filed on behalf of women and children in Zambia’s central Kabwe District, who are the alleged victims of lead poisoning.

The UN experts – whose mandates cover issues such as toxic pollution and human rights, business and human rights, and discrimination against women and girls – had sought to intervene in the case.

Duty of care

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg will this week hear arguments on whether the merits of the damages claim by the victims can be considered.

The applicants allege that Anglo American South Africa, through its prior involvement in the activities of the local lead mine in Kabwe, assumed a duty of care towards residents, especially protection against lead exposure.

“Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children,” the UN experts said.

‘Profound’ health effects

Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified it as one of 10 chemicals of major public health concern, needing action by countries to protect the health of workers, children and women of reproductive age.

“According to the WHO, there is no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects,” they added.