MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2007-03-15


(abstracted from: "For whom the Windfalls", March 2007. Footnotes are to be found in the original).

There are also questions about the ability of the regulatory authorities to effectively police the mining companies, even where there are clear laws in place and clear commitments made in the Development Agreements. There are particular complaints about the performance of the KCM (Konkola Copper Mines) mine since Vedanta took over its ownership.

A local environmental activist claims, “Anglo was like a leading company in terms of environmental performance, but now KCM is one of the worst culprits. There are a number of programmes that were put in place, in terms of environmental clean-up. If you look at the EMP (Environmental Management Plan) you will find that much of the programmes were initiated and operated by Anglo and after Anglo left, they have been abandoned.” . Campaigners complain for example that although permission for KCM’s new smelter in Chingola has not yet been granted by ECZ, and local communities have expressed concerns about its location close to residences, construction has been going on.

PROFILE: KCM and the pollution of the Kafue River

On November 6 2006, the entire Chingola district was faced with a water supply crisis following pollution of the Kafue River by a spillage of mining effluents from the KCM plant. The two water companies that supply around 75,000 people in Chingola residential areas, Nkana Water and Sewage Company (NWSC) and Mulonga Water and Sewage Company (MWSC), were forced to shutdown their plants when the Kafue River turned blue when a pipe delivering slurry from the tailings leach plant at KCM burst, releasing into the water effluents that raised chemical concentrations to 1,000% of acceptable levels of copper, 77,000% of manganese and 10,000% of cobalt

The result was that residents of Chingola Township were cut off from supplies of freshwater for six days. Some residents of more informal settlements in the area, such as Hippo Pool Township, who do not have access to piped water, have always drawn their drinking water from the Kafue. In cases where piped water had been cut off, others were forced to go direct to the river. Although the Government has attempted to provide water tankers and to discourage people from going direct to the Kafue, residents have complained that there is insufficient water, and newspapers report that some families continued going to the Kafue.

One resident told a newspaper reporter, “We are scared. In fact even this water they are bringing in tanks is not enough. Now we are dead because of KCM. We may have problems in the future. We do not know what is in our bodies. We drank because we were thirsty. But the taste was bitter. It was like chloroquine. Most people are sick. Most people can’t even stand up. If we try to put chlorine, the water becomes black. If we boil it, it becomes brown.”

Consuming water as polluted as that in the Kafue, eating fish from the river, or plants watered with polluted water is likely to have wide-ranging short-term and long-term health implications. Between them the chemicals spilled into the river cause lung and heart problems, respiratory diseases and liver and kidney damage. In the short term, a large number of residents are suffering from diarrhoea, eye infections and skin irritations. These are likely to be only the early signs of poisoning that will have long-term impacts. Exposure to manganese can cause ‘manganism’ a disease of the central nervous system affecting psychic and neurological functions. Brain damage effects in the local population may only show up in future generations.

Whether or not the regulatory authorities have been passive in the past, it may be that widespread criticism of the companies around the 2006 elections may bolster the regulators’ confidence. Environment and Natural Resources Minister Kabinga Pande argued that a crack-down on KCM will be the first step in a wider move to bring the companies into compliance with environmental and labour laws, “Much as we have gone out of our way to accommodate new mine owners, we are not going to condone complacence on their part and the deliberate flouting of our laws…The situation experienced recently was not accidental but is a result of failure by the current mine owners to implement the KCM Nchanga mine Environmental Management Plan (EMP), that was inherited from the Anglo- American Corporation, the previous owner of the mine.

"This plan was developed in 2001, and was the basis on which the mining project was approved by the Environmental Council of Zambia.” . The EMP requires that discharge from the dam should be mainly storm water, and that, in the event of an acidic spill, provisions would be in place to neutralise the effluent – by adding lime to the mix to neutralise the Ph balance. As the Minister noted, “Regrettably, at the time of this incident, the company had no lime in stock yet it was pumping highly acidic tailings, which corroded the rubber pipe lining.” Failures of management and implementation of the conditions of KCM’s EMP had been picked up by ECZ in June 2006 and the company was required to correct the failings by the end of the year. The Minister claimed that if the company had failed to implement the measures at the end of the year, KCM’s licenses would have been withdrawn.

Immediately following the spill, ECZ suspended all pollution control licenses to KCM to discharge effluent into the aquatic environment until the body was satisfied with remedial action taken by the company to solve the problem, including de-silting the dam and replacing the pipes.

The ECZ pointed out that this was not an isolated incident of environmental neglect by KCM, which had seen several tailings pipe bursts resulting in some communities facing polluted water for over a year. An ECZ spokesman complained, “this is a clear indication of poor corporate social responsibility by KCM management in their environmental management.” ECZ also announced that it “reserved the right to prosecute KCM management or Directors in their individual capacity if upon investigations, they are deemed to have been negligent in carrying out their duties to prevent pollution thereby threatening human life and the environment.” .


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