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Awiti’s firm, Nema to pay Sh1.3 billion for pollution

By Benard Sanga | July 18th 2020

A firm owned by former Nyali MP Hezron Awiti will pay Sh65 million out of the Sh1.3 billion awarded as compensation for the illness, death and other damages caused by a battery refinery plant in Jomvu, Mombasa.

National Environment Management Authority (Nema) will bear the greatest responsibility and will pay Sh520 million of the compensation, which is 40 per cent, to the residents of Owino Uhuru village.

Awiti’s firm Penguin Paper and Book Company leased the yard to Metal Refinery (EPZ) Limited, which set up a lead acid battery recycling factory that produced toxic waste.

Yesterday, Awiti expressed shock arguing that he never participated in the case and will consult his lawyers on the next course of action following the judgement.

“I only leased the land to the lead factory (Metal Refinery Limited). I have not read the judgement. I’ll consult the lawyers,” said Awiti (pictured).

In a 101-page ruling, the court agreed with the petitioners that waste from the factory seeped into the village, causing various illnesses and ailments to the residents of Owino Uhuru.

During the hearing of the case, which was filed by the Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action on behalf of the residents, it was also reported that at least 20 deaths were caused due to the toxic emission from the factory.

Justice Ann Omollo granted four of the seven prayers that were sought by the residents, including the order to clean up the soil and provide water in the village to remove the waste deposits.

In default of the order to clean up the sprawling slum within 120 days, the respondents will be forced to pay Sh700 million to the Centre for Justice Governance and Environmental Action.

Dangerous levels

A report by experts from the Government Chemist indicated that the lead levels within the soil in the 13.5-acre village are 40mg/ft2, which was hazardous.

“There are pockets of dust with high levels, which is hazardous especially for children and persons who spend time in enclosed places,” the report stated.  

“From the evidence, it is indeed not in doubt that the petitioners suffered individually through inhalation of pollutants from the respondent,” said Justice Omollo.

She ruled that the affected residents of Owino Uhuru slums were entitled to compensation in monetary and non-monetary reliefs as pleaded in their petition. The locals had demanded Sh2 billion as compensation for damages and Sh1 billion for soil clean up.

The judge castigated Nema and the ministries of Environment and Health for failing to undertake soil clean up or treat the sick residents.

“The dismissive approach demonstrates a lack of commitment on the part of the respondents to protect the right to clean and healthy environment as well as the ecosystem,” said the judge.

The lead factory will pay 25 per cent of the award while the Ministry of Health and Export Processing Zones Authority will each pay 10 per cent. The factory was built in 2006 but began operations in 2007 emitting poison, which killed several people and hundreds more became ill.

The court documents indicated the factory used magadi soda and coal in smelting process for two hours to produce impure lead and sludge.

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