Solve pollution. Save lives. Protect the planet.

Zambia (Kabwe) – Pilot Lead Remediation Project (Phase 1)

the details…
Key pollutant
Population affected
Cost of project
terre des hommes, Marilyn S. Broad, Foundation Beyond Belief, International Foundation, Other Private Donations

Kabwe is the second largest city in Zambia, with a population of more than 200,000 people and is located 130 km north of the nation’s capital, Lusaka. It is situated adjacent to the “Copperbelt”, which was once Zambia’s thriving industrial base. Ore veins with lead concentrations as high as 20% have been mined at the site, and smelting operations were set up to process the ore.

Lead mining and smelting operations were run almost continuously for over 90 years without adequately addressing the potential dangers of lead. Smelting was largely unregulated throughout the 20th century in Kabwe, and these smelters released heavy metals in the form of dust particles, which settled on the ground in the surrounding areas. While the mine is currently closed, artisanal activity at tailings piles continues.

Today, high residual concentrations of lead dust remain, heavily polluting the site and adjacent communities. The contamination is not uniform, however, with certain neighborhoods significantly more contaminated than others – particularly neighborhoods close to or downwind of the mine and tailings piles area. It is proposed that a pilot remediation and community education project be carried out in the highly contaminated residential area of Chowa.

The current CDC recommended level of lead in children’s blood is 5 ug/dL. Levels in excess of 120 ug/dL can potentially be fatal. In some neighborhoods in Kabwe, blood concentrations of 200 ug/dL or more were recorded in children, and records show average blood levels of children tested ranged between 50 and 100 ug/dL.Children who play in the soil and young men who artisan ally mine the area are most at risk.

The Zambian government has made significant progress in dealing with the issue, particularly through a World Bank and Nordic Development Fund remediation program from 2003 to 2011. Despite these efforts, the site still poses an acute health risk that will require further work.

In 2014, Pure Earth conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment in Kabwe in order to understand where the persisting lead hotspots are within the community and to identify relevant exposure pathways. Based on that assessment, Pure Earth developed a plan to conduct targeted pilot interventions, including blood lead level testing and clean up efforts, starting with the most severely contaminated neighborhoods and prioritizing children’s health and safety

This project consisted of capping residential yards and public areas, cleaning of homes interiors, a public education and awareness campaign, and monitoring and evaluation. The purpose of the project is to reduce exposures and therefore blood lead concentrations of Chowa residents. The concurrent goal of the project is to train local resources and government employees in implementing this type of project going forward.