Slum residents tested for lead poisoning

Kenya: The Ministry of Health and the county government of Mombasa have begun carrying out tests on residents of two slums to determine possible contamination of heavy metal by effluent from a nearby lead factory.

Some residents of Uhuru Owino and Bangladesh slums in Mombasa have in the past complained that they have fallen ill, suspecting they were contaminated by effluent from the factory.

A Senate committee visited the factory last year but the outcome of its investigation has not been made public.

A report compiled in 2009 by Chief Government Chemist George Kakuta indicated that blood samples from three children in Uhuru Owino slum had lead levels exceeding the World Health Organisation recommendations of 10 ug/100ml.

One of the children was found to have a blood lead level of 12ug/100ml, while 10-year-olds Moses Odhiambo and Daniel Bazil had lead levels of 17ug/100ml and 23ug/ml respectively.

Officials from the ministry yesterday took blood samples from the residents who have since 2009 complained of alleged effects of the lead factory operating near their residential area.

The exercise which began on Tuesday has seen over 200 children from the two slums have their blood tested to verify the extent of lead poisoning in their system.

Heading the operations, Nancy Etyang from the Ministry of Health headquarters in Nairobi said the exercise was to ascertain the levels of lead pollution in the environment before any legal action can be taken.

She said the four-day exercise will be focused on Uhuru Owino and Bangladesh slums to compare the levels of lead in the environment and come up with a conclusive report.

"We are carrying a random test among young children between the age of nine months to one year to establish the extent of the lead pollution in the environment and ascertain if the factory is indeed the lead cause of the poisoning," said Dr Etyang.

She said experts were focusing on the children because they were the most vulnerable and would easily succumb to the effects of death if they fail to get proper medication.

Etyang pointed out that lead has adverse health effects in body organs and those affected gradually become ill and eventually succumb.

Phylis Omide, a community organiser and founder of Centre of Justice and Environment Action, who heads the Tuna Sauti project in the slums, said she will go to court to sue both the lead factory and National Environment Management Authority (Nema) for negligence.


Ms Ominde said Nema was responsible for the poisoning because they issued a licence allowing the factory to operate in the slum despite protest from the residents.

She said last year, there were 20 children from the slum who were found to contain heavy traces of lead in their body.

"There are over 5,000 people living in this area and most of them are suffering from various health problems as a result of the lead poisoning of the battery recycling plant," said Omide.

She said the relevant bodies had been slow to take action against the lead factory while people continued to suffer.

Alfred Ogola, a local leader, said most families including his have been suffering for a long time without any hope of intervention from the Government.

Ogola said residents were yet to receive laboratory test results taken by the Government  last year from 50 families suffering from lead poisoning.

"We have lost hope with the Government. Our women are miscarrying and our children are dying because of the disaster caused by the plant," said Ogola.

However, efforts to reach the firm's management yesterday were futile but they have in the past told The Standard that the allegations from the community were false since they had closed the factory three years ago.