In 2007, the Indian company Metal Refinery (EPZ) Ltd. began its operations of recycling lead from old used lead-acid car batteries in Owino Uhuru, an informal settlement in Mombasa, Kenya (5).
Since the smelter was exporting the processed lead to India, where lead-acid batteries market is booming because of the growing demand for cars, new solar power projects and expanding telecommunication infrastructure in Owino Uhuru people were dying.
Deaths regarding lead contamination in the community go from 15 to 30 adults and 100 children. However, data still unknown as authorities have refused to do autopsies to check if they had lead in their blood (3). Other healths damages related to lead poisoning in the community included miscarriages and children with lower IQ than the normal average. Also, many men are sterile and many adults with tumors (3).
Phyllis Omido, a women worker from the smelter started noticing the increase in health damages in the community, including his son. Many doctors and villagers taught that the cause was malaria and children started receiving medication without no success (6). Omido started reading about lead poisoning and as no lab in Kenya could test for lead, she sent her son's samples to South Africa. Results came back with a reading of 45 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl) (6). The US Centers for Disease Control considers above 5ug/dl to merit intervention (9). Omido quit the job and became an activist against the smelter. "We have been poisoning with lead pollution through contaminated air and water" Phyllis Omido.
On March 25th, 2014, a public petition led by Phyllis Omido and residents of the community was tabled before the Senate. The petitio addresses complaints of lead poisoning from the local battery recycling and asking for:
1) The immediate clearing of the environment, including detoxifying and restoring the soil 2) The replanting of destroyed trees 3) The immediate testing of all the residents 4) The detoxification of all infected persons and pets 5) The removal of a hazardous waste slug the plant has disposed of over the years and continues to dispose of at the Mwakirunge Dumpsite 6) The testing of all the ‘street children’ and other persons who scavenge for a living at the dumpsite; and 7) The immediate and full compensation of all victims.
For holding protests against the lead-acid battery smelter Phyllis Omido was threatened and surveilled. During a demonstration in 2012, Phyllis and other protestors were arrested and taken to court for "inciting violence". Many other forms of protests include street blockages and protests. After the governmental intervention, the smelter shut down.
In 2015, for forcing the closure of the factory, Phyllis Omido won the Goldman Environmental Prize. Phyllis founded The Centre for Justice Governance and Environmental Action which has supported locals impacted by lead-smelting operations to file a lawsuit seeking compensation and for the clean up of the soil. She is now a well-recognized activist in Africa and she is leading many more cases of lead contamination in SouthSaharian Africa. However, Omido’s work has been at great risk — to herself, her family, and her colleagues’ families. She’s been physically attacked multiple times and is constantly threatened (10). The UN demanded the Kenyan government do more to protect Omido and her colleagues who are "facing a life-or-death situation" (10)
On July 2020, environmental defenders celebrated a landmark $12m court victory against the government of Kenya. According to The Guardian, the court found the governmental authorities and the companies guilty of negligence and liable for environmental and health damages. It also ordered a cleanup of the site within months.