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Vetting of lead poisoning victims completed ahead of court verdict

Verification exercise of victims of lead poisoning at Owino Ohuru in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Vetting of the 3,000 victims of lead poisoning in Mombasa’s Owino Uhuru has been finalised ahead of the December 2 Court of Appeal verdict on a Sh1.3 billion award.

The victims were on Sunday optimistic that they will be compensated for pollution from a smelting plant that has since folded up.

The screening was conducted by the Centre for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA) in collaboration with Nyumba Kumi representatives.

Kenya Metal Refinery EPZ, a battery recycling plant, was accused of lead pollution in the slum in Changamwe.

CJGEA sued the ministries of Environment and Health, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema), the Export Processing Zones Authority and Penguin Paper and Book Company.

Environment and Land Court judge Anne Omollo made the ruling in favour of the victims in July, 2020 but Nema appealed.

The court gave the polluter 120 days to clean up the environment or provide Sh700 million for the exercise.

Yesterday, Owino Uhuru village elder and victim Alfred Ogola said he was happy the matter was set to end so that they could get compensation. “We are happy this matter which has dragged on for years is finally coming to an end. We hope we will get compensation however little it may be,” said Mr Ogola.

Another victim Solistica Shikanga said she hoped that all victims of lead poisoning would get compensated.

“I am happy this case is almost ending,” said Ms Shikanga. 

Anastacia Nambo said the vetting was transparent and she expected that only genuine victims would be compensated.

CJGWEA Executive Director Phyllis Omido said the vetting was meant to validate a list compiled in 2015.

She said the exercise that involved village elders and nyumba kumi representatives included the verification of names, national identity cards and telephone numbers ahead of the December 2 court of appeal verdict after Nema had appealed.

“We are carrying out verification to ensure that the list reflects reality on the ground,” she said, adding that some of the victims have died and the children have grown up.

The court battle has lasted more than eight years.

Folded up

Ms Omido noted that the victims can only get 70 per cent of the compensation package since the smelter had folded up.

CJGWEA carried out blood screening in 2014 which confirmed that residents of Owino Uhuru suffered lead poisoning that had led to some deaths.

Environment and Land Court awarded the victims Sh1.3 billion for health complications they suffered due to lead poisoning.

The government was told to shoulder the burden alongside two other private investors.

The case was filed back on August 20, 2015, by Ms Omido.

The residents sought Sh1.6 billion, saying their lives and health had been ruined and they needed frequent medication.

Some 3,000 complainants filed the case seeking compensation for medical complications and deaths from negligence.

The group claimed the State failed to monitor lead emissions and effluent from the Kenya Metal Refinery.

The court found the government and the investors answerable for the health hazards that affected the residents and subsequently ordered a remedial cleaning programme.