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Over 3000 Changamwe residents at risk of lead poisoning

25 June 2014, 17:15 Samuel Kisika

Nairobi – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has raised concern over increased poisoning of coastal residents and environmental pollution caused by a lead smelter industry operating in Changamwe constituency, Owino Uhuru district in Mombasa County.

HRW Senior Environment Researcher for Kenya, Jane Cohen said three workers at the smelter died from lead poisoning and after carrying out lead poisoning testing, it was found that over 3 000 people are intoxicated with the substance thus calling on the government to step in and safeguard the residents’ health.

“At least three people have died and thousands others are under threat from toxic lead because the Kenyan authorities didn’t enforce their own environmental laws and regulations. This is an urgent and on-going crisis that needs immediate government action,” said Cohen.

Cohen noted that although the law requires an environmental impact assessment before an industry is established, the smelter owners did not comply with the regulations when they opened the harmful industry in 2007.

“A government investigation that began in 2009 found that the smelter had violated numerous laws and that its operations were endangering the health of workers and nearby residents. Since its operations in 2007, residents in Owino Uhuru say they have experienced an increase in miscarriages and impotence, and parents told Human Rights Watch that their children always seem sick,” said Cohen.

“The Kenyan authorities in Mombasa authorised the smelter as part of a programme to stimulate investment but investment should not come at the expense of the lives and health of workers and residents,” he cautioned.

Cohen revealed that activists protesting against the harmful industry have been arrested and arraigned in court on trumped up charges of incitement of violence and unlawful assembly, and some have received life threats.

“Waste water flows out of a hole in the smelter's wall and drains into the community. When Phyllis Omido and other residents peacefully protested the pollution and lack of government response, they were threatened, harassed, arrested, and beaten up by thugs,” lamented Cohen.

He further said families of those who died from the lead poisoning are yet to be compensated hence called on the government to put them into consideration.

The activist, Pyllis Omido alleged that the toxic lead industry enjoys political protection and goodwill since some regional politicians have been spotted visiting the factory despite threatening many lives and polluting the environment.

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