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Health Ministry to blame for Mombasa lead poisoning

07 May 2015, 16:36 Samuel Kisika

Nairobi – The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has blamed the Ministry of Health for misadvising it in dealing with a toxic lead firm at Owino Uhuru slum in Mombasa County where majority of residents are suffering from the poison while others have reportedly died.

NEMA Director General, Geoffrey Wahungu who appeared before the National Assembly Environment and Natural Resources committee, said his Authority delayed to act by shutting down the harmful Kenya Metal Refinery firm after being misled by the public health officers in to believing that the company was operating legally under the laid down certifications.

Wahungu reiterated that his Authority has no total powers to oversight the establishment of industries but instead, it relies on the Health Ministry which is its lead agency to provide directives on the legality and environmental pollution before action such a revocation of the license and immediate closure is undertaken.

“We closed the factory twice and re-opened after we were advised by the Public Health Officer in Mombasa that the factory was compliant in ensuring there was no environmental pollution and residents were not exposed to health hazards,” said Wahungu.

Read Also: MP admits ownership of Mombasa metal refinery company

“This is a matter of bad business practices where somebody wants to subvert provisions of the license. NEMA has launched investigations into the lead company to ascertain the criminal component,” he added.

He admitted that the authority has been ineffective in dealing with industries that pollute the environment due to inadequate manpower as a result of minimal budgetary allocation.

“Capacity building is needed to have enough inspection of officers to identify such harmful firms. We also have inadequate facilities for inspection and detection of emitted products in public institutions and we mostly rely on private institutions’ equipment,” said Wahungu.

However, Wahungu said they are working with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office by providing evidence for the prosecution of culprits in charge of the toxic Kenya Metal Refinery firm at Owino Uhuru.

“Evidence is available and we are still collecting more information on lead contamination to Owino Uhuru victims. We have already started working with the DPP’s office to ensure the culprits are taken to court and the fine determined based on the damage caused to victims,” said Wahungu.

The Bungoma County MP, Reginalda Wanyonyi said the Ministry of Health officers in Mombasa should appear before the committee for questioning after misleading NEMA and allowing the lead smelting company to continue with the operations despite endangering lives of residents.

“We need to interrogate the public health officers. They must have colluded with the company’s directors for the firm to continue with its operations,” claimed Wanyonyi.

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