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Four sue State over alleged link of toxic waste to cancer death cases

Oil exploration equipment. [File, Standard]

A trending video in which former Cabinet Minister Cyrus Jirongo is heard telling lawyer PLO Lumumba about dumping of toxic waste in Northern Kenya re-ignited the debate about the matter that has for a long time been linked to cases of cancer in the region. 

However, what many Kenyans are not aware of is the ongoing case filed by Kituo Cha Sheria, Asunta Galgitele, David Kimwabile and Mark Saramo against the Health Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and Attorney General.

In the case, the government is accused of failing to rehabilitate the environment in Marsabit County following oil exploration between 1985 and 1990 by Amoco Kenya Petroleum Company.

Amoco drilled wells in Bellatrix, Chalbi and Sirius in Marsabit. It also explored oil in Hothori in Wajir County.

Not decommissioned

According to the petitioners, the firm was exploring the Northern region for oil but left without decommissioning the sites it had drilled.

Documents filed before High Court judge Chacha Mwita read that the toxic chemicals used during drilling and scrap metals could be the cause of cancer cases in the region.

Further, they alleged that dumping of waste from the West between 1988 and 1994 was being done in parts of Marsabit.

“The petitioners aver that immediately after the oil exploratory activities and the waste dumping activities, which took place at almost the same time, the reported cases of the villagers who have contracted cancers and the illnesses and deaths of livestock is alarming and shocking,” court papers read in part.

It was alleged that sometime in January 2000, over 7,000 livestock died suddenly after consuming water from a government borehole BH No. 6 in Kargi centre, south of Chalbi desert.

Additionally, the court heard that earlier in the 1990s, a flock of sheep and goats died in Balesa, near Dukana, after having consumed water from a drilled borehole next to an abandoned oil well drilled by AMOCO Kenya Petroleum Company.

It was alleged that in January 2019 or thereabouts, about 115 camels died in El Hadi village in Marsarbit County after drinking contaminated water from an abandoned well. Some 56 goats died under the same circumstances.

While linking deaths of animals and cancer cases to contaminated water, the four petitioners also claimed that the pattern indicated both animals and humans were ingesting toxic substances.

In her supporting affidavit, Kituo’s director Dr Ammette Mbogo told the court that various studies have linked cancer to lead, excessive nitrates and arsenic.

Another report, Dr Mbogo said linked stomach cancer to suspected lead presence in the wells and boreholes.

On his part, Saramo told the court that sometime in 2000, his animals died under unclear circumstances after drinking water.

He reiterated that some of the areas where exploration was done had a whitish substance which was consumed by residents as salt, adding the substance expands in size when it comes into contact with water.

“In fact, people with machetes used to cut the saltish substance and pack them in bags for consumption by livestock and for their own consumption. On my part, I have lost two of my relatives; that is my mother Garbalyo Bullo and aunt Meligit Odhola,” he narrated. 

On the other hand, the government-linked the deaths to ‘poor quality water.’ 

The Environment Ministry claimed that samples of water within Kargi indicated that conductivity, sodium, chloride, nitrate and total dissolved solids were above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended values.

In its reply, the ministry stated that they pose human health risks if ingested.

The ministry claimed that owing to both human and animal waste stagnation, there are high levels of nitrates that are swept by rains into the surface and ground waters used by the nomadic communities and their livestock.

The ministry asserted that there are no conclusive findings on what causes cancer and deaths in the North Eastern region.

Nema said Kenya Television Network (KTN) aired the saga in 2004, it investigated claims of dumping in Wajir and Marsabit counties.

According to the agency, the scientific findings were that the areas have high levels of nitrates and nitrites in water.

In addition, it observed that there were abandoned scrap metals and obsolete drilling chemicals from some oil exploration sites. The chemicals were at Habaswein and Hothori in Wajir county.

The authority said that the scrap metals and chemicals were tested and the conclusion was that bentonite and baryte were within acceptable radiation levels.

Nema claimed that the only issue with the waters was nitrates from livestock while linking cancer cases to chewing of miraa and khat.

The authority told the court that the National Oil Corporation of Kenya was tasked to dispose of bentonite, an assignment the agency performed.

No feedback

Nevertheless, the authority stated that in 2010, an inter-ministerial team gave different tasks to different agencies concerning the issue. However, to date, it said, some of the agencies have not given feedback on what they were supposed to do.

"The fifth respondent has performed its duty of protecting the environment. It prays that this court determines the petition as it deems just, fair and reasonable without slapping it with adverse orders as to damages,” replied Nema.

Water Resources Authority and Petroleum Principal Secretary echoed the responses by Nema and the Environment Ministry.

The case will be mentioned on June 20.

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