Anglo American Plc has successfully averted a potential class action over allegations that a mine it was associated with for nearly 50 years caused lead poisoning affecting tens of thousands of people in Zambia.
The South Africa High Court dismissed the application filed by 12 plaintiffs from Kabwe, Zambia, citing costs. The plaintiffs, represented by law firms Mbuyisa Moleele and Leigh Day, had sought to represent up to 142,000 individuals and plan to appeal the decision.
Anglo, which held a stake in the Broken Hill mine from 1925 to 1974, when it was nationalized, denies responsibility for the lead poisoning. Lead exposure can lead to health issues ranging from learning difficulties to infertility and, in severe cases, death.
Judge Leonie Windell, in her ruling, stated, “The applicants seek permission to advance an untenable claim that would set a grave precedent.” She emphasized the challenge of holding a business liable decades after its activities ceased, based on standards unknown at the time.
This decision provides relief for London-based Anglo amid increasing legal scrutiny targeting mining companies for allegedly neglecting the health impact of their operations in southern Africa. The lawsuit, filed in South Africa due to Anglo’s past headquarters in Johannesburg, follows similar cases, including a 2018 settlement of $390 million for silicosis claims by former gold miners. Other miners, including Glencore Plc, are also facing applications for class actions.
The Zambian case, backed by UN agencies and Amnesty International, reflects ongoing efforts to address historical health and safety concerns associated with mining operations in the region. Despite the setback, the plaintiffs remain committed to pursuing justice for the affected communities.