Mombasa,Kenya: Government officials yesterday stormed the alleged killer factory in Changamwe Mombasa, whose owners are accused of emitting lead effluent. This comes following a KTN expose’ of a lead poisoning scandal.
The entry took place after a six-hour standoff between inspectors from the National Environment Authority (Nema) and the management of the controversial Kenya Metal Refinery. But even as these developments unfolded, residents of the poverty stricken Owino Uhuru slum who have been afflicted by lead effluent, have said they would not relocate from the area despite documented evidence of lethal lead emissions from a nearby smelting factory.
The residents claimed the Government has not carried out any tests despite promises made early this year. But a senior official in the Health Ministry, Jackson Kioko, who heads the Preventive Services Department maintained that results of tests allegedly done in January will be out in the next two weeks.
It was not clear why the results have taken so long to publish or complete. At first, guards at the gates refused to let in inspectors, claiming they had no orders to do so, but after lengthy negotiations that started at 8.00am, the Nema officials who have been criticised for allowing the plant to operate for years were let in.
Reports show that the plant agreed to allow in inspectors after pressure from a politician from Mombasa.
However, the management refused to allow journalists into the plant as the inspection dragged on for hours.
Early yesterday, Nema said it had widened areas to be covered in its belated ‘comprehensive inspection’ to determine the effects of the lethal lead emissions in Changamwe, Mombasa.
The environment officials said experts will also inspect godowns near the factory, whose owners are accused of dumping the poisonous lead residue affecting over 5,000 residents of the Owino Uhuru and Bangladesh slums. Mombasa County Director of Environment Stephen Wambua said four lead poisoning experts are already at work on the ground and more from Nairobi may join to boost the operation.
The official expressed fears that two more godowns holding food may have may have been affected and inspection would be carried out so that Nema can “give the owners appropriate advice.”
Several warehouses and godowns that store food items for export (and some imports) are located in Changamwe, with some of them neighbouring the infamous lead smelting firm.
“On Monday, I led a team to the factory and today, I have dispatched four technical officers to carry out a comprehensive inspection in the factory and two more neighbouring godowns because we fear that if it is food, then we must give the owners appropriate advice,” said Wambua.
It has also emerged that the 5,000 residents affected by the lead will wait a little longer to know their fate after Nema said the process to determine whether the area was contaminated will take long.
The residents vowed not to relocate but Nema officials said the factory would have to move from the area. “The factory was closed years back. This facility may not be allowed to operate again and if it has to operate, then it will be relocated,” said Wambua.
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“The report will determine if there will be anti-commissioning and de-contamination of the area,” he said.
On Monday, residents claimed they had lost their kin from complications related to the poisoning.
But the managing director of the firm who identified himself only as Suresh told The Standard the claims against the company were ‘propaganda’ by “those who have in the past tried to extort money from us. Our plant stopped operations due to some teething management issues, not because we were directed to do so by any Government officials. We have complied with everything and we will reopen any time soon,” he said on phone.