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The East African : July 28th 2014
The EastAfrican OUTLOOK JULY 26 - AUGUST 1, 2014 P≥obe team found facto≥y negligent IN 2009, the Public Complaints Committee (PCC) under the Ministry of Environment found that Metal Refineries Ltd did not abide by the provisions of either the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (EMCA) or the Environment Impact Assessment/ Environment Assessment (EIA/EA) regulations. According to the committee, the project proponent did not submit either a project report or an EIA study report prior to financing and executing it. This recommendation was The lead factory in Owino Ohuru slum. It was shut down early this year after protests from the slum residents. LEAD POISONING What are the worldwide statistics on lead poisoning? Toxic poisoning from mining, lead smelters and industrial dumps affects the health of more than 125 million people, rivalling malaria and tuberculosis. What are the main dangers of lead poisoning? Left: David Mahala, a victim of lead poisoning in Owino Ohuru slum. Above: Alfred Ogola, a community elder is nursing his eye after surgery due to complications related to lead poisoning. law requires that an environmental impact assessment be carried out before an industry can open, the owners of the factory didn’t conduct the assessment until after it began operations,” says Ms Cohen. The Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act for “I know we are poor but we have rights as spelt out in the Kenyan Constitution. What the smelter was doing was wrong and it was a big letdown from the authorities to turn a blind eye to the plight of the residents,” she says. It was Ms Omido’s activism through letters to various government agencies like the National Environment Management Agency (Nema), human rights groups and street protests that led to the closure of the factory. Impunity According to Jane Cohen, a lead researcher with Human Rights Watch, the government agencies knew of what was going on both inside the smelting factory and its effects on the community but turned a blind eye. “The government’s failure to regulate the smelter dates back to 2007. Although the Kenyan example, prevents industries from releasing toxic effluent and from polluting the air, and specifies that an environmental impact assessment must be undertaken before operations can begin. The same Act also imposes penalties and fines that include prison terms for offenders. Efforts to get a comment from Nema proved futile as its officials refused to co-operate. It is now seven months of silent machines at the smelter’s factory, but the residents of Owino Uhuru continue to ask questions about their fate. Who will compensate us? Will action be taken on the smelter? What about the medical bills? Will we all die? However, Dominic Shitanda, a doctor in private practice at the Coast, says that there are remedies for those who have suffered toxic poisoning although they are quite expensive. “One of the remedies is che- lation therapy, where certain agents (blood) are administered over a period of time to the victim of lead poisoning, and it is meant to draw toxic metals out of the body,” says Dr Shikanda. Another remedy that most When you fail to relocate the victims, they will continue to suffer the effects of the poisoning.” Domininc Shitanda, a doctor at the coast Lead is increasingly becoming a global threat to health and child development as it is highly toxic and can interrupt a child’s neurological, biological and cognitive functions. Who is vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead poisoning? According to the World Health Organisation, young children are particularly vulnerable, and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. What harm does it cause to adults? It causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations. doctors will advise is the relocation of the victims from the area affected by the lead poisoning, adds the doctor. “When you fail to relocate the victims, they will continue to suffer the effects of the poisoning as the lead often remains in the environment; once these victims return to the area, the lead levels in their blood rise,” says Dr Shikanda. Peter Gilruth, an officer at the United Nations Environment Programme Division of Early Warning Assessment says that children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable when it comes to lead poisoning. “Pregnant mothers suffer from lead poisoning as the toxin causes deformities in their unborn baby. Children who ingest lead suffer from poor brain development as they are slower than their counterparts who are not exposed,” says Mr Gilruth. as a result of complaints (PCC complaint no 96/2009) filed by Owino Uhuru residents in Mombasa County. They were complaining that the emissions from the lead processing factory, located near the village, were having an adverse effect on their health and environment. “This failure had led to the pollution of the air and water sources in and around the village, and caused severe health problems among residents. They also alleged that the emissions from the factory had corroded the corrugated iron sheet roofing of their homes,” the report reads. During the PCC investiga- tions, Miran Shah, the smelting factory operations manager said that the factory was buying old lead acid batteries from waste dealers, as it dealt in smelting and refinery of lead and its alloys. “We separate parts, clean them, feed them into the smelter, package and export the finished product,” he told the committee. On complaints about waste emissions from the chimney, Mr Shah said that it was 80 feet from the ground and that there were none. He said that there were ponds where it settled in and was filtered. PCC found that despite the MRL factory having started its operations in 2006, it only carried out carried out an Environmental Assessment study (Ref No NEMA/EA/5/2/6836), acknowledged by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) in June 2008. Martin Shimba from Nema also informed the PCC team that even though the EIA had followed the normal procedure, there had not been a public hearing during the process, a key requirement by law. The committee also found that despite MRL operating under the EPZ Authority, with a valid licence expiring on December 12, 2009, it had not filed the approved plans for the premises and the factory layout. The committees’ investiga- tions concluded that smoke from the factory was responsible for the corrosion of corrugated iron sheets on the roofs of the homes of the residents of Owino Uhuru Village. “This fact was admitted to by officials of MRL at the May 2009 consultative forum and subsequent on-site visit the same day. The smoke from the factory is a source of air pollution. This has significantly lowered the quality of air enjoyed in and around the village, and has had adverse health impacts on residents of Owino Uhuru Village, including, respiratory diseases,” the report says. It was also revealed that the effluent from the factory that had been directed through the wall in the factory by way of a trench to the municipal drainage system posed a significant health risk to humans and animals alike, who may have come into contact with it. “This risk increases exponen- tially if the effluent so carelessly discharged was contaminated with lead. The lead dust produced from the factory operations would have a negative impact on the health of the workers therein,” the report reads. Following its damning re- port, Nema officers in 2009 expressed a wish to constitute a Technical Advisory Committee to assess the operations of the factory, because of the controversy surrounding its operations. It is not clear why the factory continued to operate till early this year despite the committee recommending the revocation of its licence in 2009. - Allan Olingo 37 Police officers place placards recovered from environmental activists protesting the presence of lead manufacturing factory in April 2012.
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