Villagers sue Vedanta over toxic leaks

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MORE than 1,800 Zambian villagers in Chingola have taken mining giant Vedanta to court in the United Kingdom over toxic leaks.
The London-listed mining giant has been polluting the drinking water of villages in Zambia and threatening a wider health disaster, the Observer has found.
This is according to the Guardian.
An environmental catastrophe report found ‘constant contamination’ of streams around the copper mine while locals reported health problems and failed crops.

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 square mile mine owned by Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mine, 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.
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, who 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 spokesperson 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.
“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,” he said.

“Because the Kafue River feeds into the Zambezi River, which provides drinking water for many Zambians, 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.
Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta Resources Plc has not sent any ‘substantial’ response regarding the legal proceedings UK-based legal firm Leigh Day has initiated on behalf of 1,800 Zambian villagers affected by water, soil and sediment pollution caused by the mining company’s copper operations in the region.
Leigh Day said they had initiated proceedings at the UK court on Friday on behalf of the residents of four affected villages in Zambia.

“The company was aware of this action as ‘Letter before claim’ was already sent to Vedanta by end of June,” he added.
Vedanta Resources said in a statement: “The company has not been served with the proceedings and is therefore unable to comment on the content of those proceedings.”
Vedanta confirmed it has received a letter from Leigh Day making certain allegations about Konkola mining activities in Zambia.

“We would prefer settling this issue with the company outside the court since court procedure is lengthy, but if the company fails to approach us for negotiations, we will go ahead with the court procedure,” said Holland.
“Negotiations will include compensation for affected villagers, the cost of clean-up of pollution and plan to stop pollution in the region,” he added.

“The pollution issue at Zambia’s Konkola Copper Mines is a 10-year-old one. The villagers all these years were approaching the company directly to solve this issue.
The company, however, did nothing to stop pollution and so the villagers finally came to the UK to seek legal help,” said Holland.

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