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Abandoned Mine in Kabwe, Zambia Abandoned Mine in Kabwe, Zambia
Toxic Creek in Kabwe

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10. Kabwe, Zambia

Country: Zambia
Location: Kabwe, Zambia


The pollutants in the area come from mining processes, mostly lead and cadmium.

Area Affected

The spread of heavy metals has been estimated to cover a 20 km radius around the original mining site. In the Kabwe area some 255,000 people are affected.


In 1902 a rich deposit of lead and zinc was discovered some distance North of Zambia's capital city of Lusaka. This area immediately became a hotbed of industry and mining, which continued until 1994 with no environmental consideration whatsoever. By the time the mines were shut down the area had been completely innundated with the wastes of the mine, including tons of lead dust spread out over the area. This dry dust, when combined with any wind, creates air that is filled with toxic heavy metals. A creek that ran through the middle of Kabwe was used as waste water by the mine. In this creek, where children bathe, there are still high concentrations of lead, even though the mines are no longer operational. 

People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected

One of the saddest aspects of Kabwe's pollution is that the children often pay the highest price. Along with young men who search the mines for scrap metal, young children show the highest levels of lead poisoning among the people of Kabwe. They often play in the dust, or in the contaminated waters of the creek that used to serve as wastewater for the mine. When health officials visited the village they found that many of the children had 5 to 10 times the amount of lead in their blood deemed safe by the EPA.

Effects from lead poisoning can include anemia, vomiting, kidney damage, and slowed mental development. In very severe cases brain damage and death can result.

Because the lead is in the very soil even the local vegetation is contaminated. A recent flash flood sent years of accumulated toxic waste down the creek and left soil innundated with lead in people's gardens, streets, and even homes. Everything from the dust on plates to the water nearby is completely contaminated with lead.

Clean up Activities

The clean-up effort in Kabwe is complex and difficult. One of the most basic aspects is educating the people in the area about lead poisoning. People are taught to wash dust off of their plates and clothing, and to forbid their children from playing in the toxic creek. In addition, World Bank has granted $40 million to the clean-up effort, formally known as the Zambia Copperbelt Environmental Project. Ideas for containing the contamination vary from concrete caps over hills to seeding the area with vegetation to keep the toxic dust from rising into the air. The state run mining company which operated the facility until it was closed has also committed to cleaning up the creek which was used as a wasteway. Some think that the people in certain areas may even need to be relocated. One thing is certain: drastic measures must be taken to ensure the restoration of the area and the health of the people.


  • Blacksmith Institute's "Top Ten Most Polluted Places 2007"
  • "Zambia's child poisoning tragedy" Penny Dale
Submitted by cennywenny on Aug 28, 2008