A group of Zambian women and children have filed a class-action lawsuit against a subsidiary of the mining company Anglo American for alleged mass lead poisoning.
The lawsuit claims that more than 100,000 people may have been poisoned, over generations, by exposure to toxins from a lead mine in Kabwe district.
Anglo American South Africa (AASA) was a shareholder in the mine from 1925 to 1974, when it was nationalized.
It said it would “defend its position”.
The company noted that while it was aware of reports about the lawsuit, it had not yet received the claim.
It also said that it was never the majority owner of the Kabwe mine. But lawyers representing the victims allege that AASA is liable because of its role “controlling, managing, supervising and advising on the technical, medical and safety aspects of the mine’s operations”.
The Kabwe mine was nationalized and operated as a state-owned body for 20 years before its closure in 1994.
The lawsuit was filed in a South African court on Wednesday. It calls for financial compensation, medical screening of children and women, and a clean-up of the area.
Lawyers said the claimants, who are “principally young children”, were suffering from “alarming levels of lead poisoning”.
They said victims have experienced a range of conditions, including psychological damage, and damage to their organs.
“In pregnant women, lead they ingested as children is absorbed into their bones and released during pregnancy,” they said.
In a report last year, Human Rights Watch said more than one-third of the population of Kabwe more than 76,000 people, live in lead-contaminated areas.
There have been several major attempts to clean up the area since the mine was closed in 1994. But Kabwe’s “Black Mountain” millions of tons of waste remains in place, report says.
In 2018, Anglo American was one of several mining companies to agree to a compensation deal for tens of thousands of South African miners who contracted deadly lung diseases while working underground.