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November 21, 2018

Lead victims from Owino Uhuru slum still seeking justice

A file photo of residents of Owino Uhuru slum in Jomvu, Mombasa county, during a protest against a lead company.
A file photo of residents of Owino Uhuru slum in Jomvu, Mombasa county, during a protest against a lead company.

In another case of environmental poisoning, residents of Owino Uhuru slum in Jomvu, Mombasa, are in court seeking compensation following lead poisoning.

The 3,000 residents either worked or bordered the now- defunct smelting plant, Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd.

The company extracted lead from used car batteries, emitting fumes laden with lead and spewed untreated acid waste water into streams. It was shut down in 2014 after causing at least five deaths.

The residents, through Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action, sued six state agencies: Nema, the Attorney General, Environment and Health CSs, Mombasa county government and the Exports Processing Zones Authority. Other respondents are Metal Refi nery (EPZ) Ltd and Penguin Paper and Book Company.

The case, filed in 2015, has dragged on in court.

On July 24 and 25 this year, five witnesses took to the stand. They were Wilfred Kamenchu, Jackson Wanyama, Steven Okello and Hamisi Diyo. Expert witness Wandera Bideru also testified.

CHARGES AGAINST AGENCIES

Nema was accused of failing in its mandate to carry environmental assessment and ensure the smelter adhered to regulations needed for its operation.

The Public Health department was faulted for failing to protect the locals, despite knowing the dangers of lead. Mombasa county, on the other hand, was blamed for allowing the refinery to operate, despite posing serious health threats to Owino Uhuru community and the workers in the industry.

Kamenchu told the court he stayed at the polluted slum for more than 16 years. He cited chest pains, itchiness, skin rashes, anaemia, low intellectual weakening of bones and impotence as some of the effects the lead brought to the community.

Okello told the court he lost his son, Samuel Omondi, to lead poisoning.

“Lack of proper medication resulted to the death,” he said. Wanyama worked in the plant as a casual labourer. His wife and son died of lead poisoning.

He said residents touched contaminated water from the company.

“The dust particles that came from the industry had lead,” he told the court. Diyo was a smelter. Wandera Bideru, a retired deputy government chemist, said the case was brought to his attention in 2014. He received a parcel containing blood samples and the names of people it was drawn from, with a request for an analysis.

“Some samples had high content of lead, above the normal range of five micrograms per decilitre in children and 10 micrograms per decilitre in adult,” he said. Bideru cited Irene, saying she had lead content of 420 micrograms per decilitre.

It is this result that prompted the formation of a task force to investigate the poisoning. Th e normal standard lead content of soil is 400 mg/kg, but Bideru said he recorded 64,000mg/kg, being samples drawn from the walls, floors and roofs of the Owino Uhuru houses. The refinery was fl agged as the source of lead. Th e next hearing has been set for November 28 and 29.

Read: Lethal dust? Mombasa factory on the spot after 10 locals die

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