Zambia mining and Environmental Remediation and Improvement Project-ZMERIP in Kabwe has disclosed that over ten thousand children up to the age of 15 have been tested and found with abnormal lead contamination in their blood streams with 1500 put on treatment between 2019 and 2023. The project has been attempting to redress lead pollution and amend many mining pollution liabilities left by the old zinc and lead mine. In an exclusive interview with Spice Fm’s reporter Alexander Mwaba, ZMERIP education and awareness officer Evans Sichilima says there are lead levels in about one third of Kabwe town with some areas possessing higher than 400 mg/kg which is the threshold for human habitat according to the World Health Organization. He discloses that some areas have as high as 2000mg/kg and some above 5000mg/kg. These areas include Katondo, Makululu, Kasanda, Railways, Chowa, Magandanyama, and Mutwe Wansofu. He says some of these areas are affected due to proximity to the old mine while others are affected following the blowing of wind into their direction.

Following the project’s soil sample analysis, Sichilima says it was discovered that lead levels are very high. He says the project has since embarked on four major interventions which include health, renovation of the Kabwe carnal, in situ remediation and rehabilitation of epic libraries.

In Kabwe the project has embarked on mainly four interventions with the first being health interventions which include screening and treatment of people with elevated lead levels in their blood. In this intervention, Sichilama shares that the project works with the ministry of health through Kabwe district health office and these interventions have been taking place at Makululu health center, Katondo health center, Kasanda health center and Chowa clinic. He says once screened and found that lead levels are high, the patient is put on treatment. ‘The World Health Organization recommends that the maximum allowable levels of lead in the blood is 5 microgram per decilitre’ Sichilima said. He however discloses that there are cases in Kabwe that are higher than that with others being found with lead levels as high as 45 microgram per decilitre in the children. He says most children were found with lead levels between the range of 10 to 45 microgram per decilitre. He discloses that over 10000 children have been tested between and found with high levels of lead contamination in their blood streams between 2019 and 2023.

Of the 10000 children, about 1500 were put on treatment followed by a review program to assess the impact of the treatment which was found to be successful. Mr. Sichilima says most treated children, their lead level in the blood dropped to below 45mg/dlt.

The second project has been to renovate the Kabwe Carnal. This project is to aid in the remediation process. Sichilima says the project embarked on the improvement of the carnal which was previously used as a conduit for transporting mining effluents. He discloses that as the carnal carried the contaminants to the dumbo, lead being a heavy metal it began to settle along the way in the carnal, an area which came to be known as Kawasaki. He says with mismanagement of the carnal by members of the public, it became a dumping site where people threw organic wastes coupled with over growth of lead making it impossible for smooth hydraulic flow so much that when it rained heavily, especially, in areas like Katondo, Waya, Chowa and Railways the contaminated water would overflow and find its ways in the communities. That is how some areas such as Chowa and Katondo became highly contaminated not just on the surface but also as a function of depth. He discloses that in areas of Chowa, the contamination goes as far as two metres in the ground above 5000mg/kg.

Now that the carnal has been built, ZMERIP has since called for mind set change among members of the community there by allowing smooth flow of the carnal in order to assist the community in remediation of the lead pollution and not to be used as a place for dumping garbage..

The third project has been an in situ remediation (treatment of the contaminated soil) program. Mr. Sichilima says the project involves the treatment of the soil. Looking at the level of contamination and the depth of lead in the ground, he discloses the project embarked on caping using pavers..given resources available, the project started paving of yards in Kasanda and Mutwe Wansofu as the most affected areas due to their proximity to the old polluting mine. He further discloses that the project has provided borehole water to 22 schools for dust suppression. The schools include Makululu B Primary School, Mine primary school, St. Mary’s Primary, Katondo primary, Bwafwano, Twafwane, Katondo box, Mulumbo early childhood school among others. He adds that this is done to allow children to play in a dust free and safe environment.

The four projects are the rehabilitation of 4 epic centers. Sichilima says these are environmental public information centers which are council libraries in the community. These Includes; Makululu epic, Kasanda epic, Katondo epic and town center library.

Mr. Sichilima says with remediation intervention in all these areas, the goal has been to improve the lead polluted environment in Kabwe.

He adds ZMERIP project has also been carrying out awareness programs through media houses such as radio stations and one on one awareness programs in the community to sensitize the community of the best practices, the effects and preventive measures of lead pollution. He adds that the project has gone further to partner with the district education board to include in the school curriculum lead pollution education.

To the disappointment of the ZMERIEP, some community leaders have continued to bring contaminated soil called the black slug from the polluted mine into the community. The slug is seen at police station surroundings, schools, roads and yawards as material used to prevent flooding or patching on the road and yards. He discloses that ZMERIEP called for community leaders meeting at Kabwe Municipal Council and informed them to desist and stop community members from using the slug but the practice has continued even by the very community and civic leaders.

From 1906 to 1994 Kabwe was known for zinc and lead mining. But since the mining activities stopped in 1994, the effects of lead pollution and other contaminants have continued to affect the community of Kabwe town, especially children. In a Human Rights Watch documentary ‘CLEAN UP TOXIC MINE SITES’ of 2023, the documentary revealed that Kabwe is one of the worst pollution hot spots in Africa because of contamination from a former lead and zinc mine. Originally the mine was owned directly or indirectly by Anglo-American and other British colonial companies, later nationalized, and closed in 1994. And years down the line between 2019 and 2023 it has been discovered that over 10000 children aged 1 to 15yrs old have been found with excessive lead poisoning in their blood streams.

By Alexander Mwaba SPICE FM 91.1 Kabwe

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