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Lead acid batteries recycling factory in Mombasa, Kenya


Description:

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) 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lead acid batteries recycling factory in Mombasa, Kenya
Country:Kenya
State or province:Mombassa
Location of conflict:Owino Uhuru
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Other
E-waste and other waste import zones
Specific commodities:Car's Batteries
Lead
Recycled Metals

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

EPZ Limited, a Kenyan subsidiary of an Indian-owned company, moved into Owino Uhuru in 2007 offering about 200 jobs.

Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:3800
Start of the conflict:2007
Company names or state enterprises:Metal Refinery EPZ from India - Owner
Penguin Paper and Book Company (no connection with the global publishing company) from Kenya - Local partner
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation (MOPHS),
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA),
Supporters: UN Commission on Human Rights; Human Rights Watch;

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Urban low-income populations;
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Other Environmental impactsImpacts on pets and other animals.
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsSpecific impacts on children; miscarriages; respiratory diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Other socio-economic impacts, Displacement
Other socio-economic impactsSpecific impacts on IQ development in children which can lead to socio-economic disadvanges.

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Usefulness of environmental resources due to lead pollution: “Our vegetables and our fish are toxic.”
Application of existing regulations
Court decision (undecided)
Project cancelled
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Migration/displacement
Violent targeting of activists
Withdrawal of company/investment
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:In 2014 the company finally closed the plant. Omido is now a well-recognized activist in Africa and she is leading many more cases of lead contamination in SouthSaharian Africa. Her work has led to the shuttering of 10 toxic waste smelters in Kenya.
Kenyans are still struggling for being compensated and for a clean up as the environment is still poisoned.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Constitution of Kenya (Articles 37 and Article 119) "The right of Kenyan citizens to petition public authorities and Parliament"

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(9) Blood Lead Levels in Children
https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/acclpp/blood_lead_levels.htm

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(1) 'East African Erin Brockovich' wins prize for closing polluting lead smelter
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/20/east-african-erin-brockovich-wins-prize-for-closing-polluting-lead-smelter

(2) Phyllis Omido (Kenya, 2015) Goldman Prize 2019
https://www.goldmanprize.org/blog/women-changemakers-goldman-prize/

(3) Desirée García and Javier Marín (2019) Vidas Envenenadas. At: El Confidencial, Special Report.
https://www.elconfidencial.com/mundo/2016-04-28/vidas-envenenadas-la-tragedia-de-owino-uhuru_1191169/

(4) Kenya: Metal Refinery (EPZ) sued for environmental pollution allegedly causing illness & deaths
https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/kenya-metal-refinery-epz-sued-for-environmental-pollution-allegedly-causing-illness-deaths

(5) Business Human Rights report
https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/documents/Metal%20Refinery%20Limited%20and%20Petition.pdf

(6) Schlanger (March 2018) A Kenyan mother, two disappearing Indian businessmen, and the battery factory that poisoned a village
https://qz.com/africa/1231792/a-battery-recycling-plant-owned-by-indian-businessmen-caused-a-lead-poisoning-crisis-in-kenya/

(8) (REPORT2)Public petition from residents of Ovirino Ouru Village to the Senate by Senator Emma Mbura.
https://centerforjgea.com/assets/SENATE_REPORT_2015.pdf

(10) Mombasa anti-pollution activist tired of living in hiding
https://citizentv.co.ke/lifestyle/phyllis-omido-mombasa-anti-pollution-activist-tired-of-living-in-hiding-197822/

(7) (REPORT1) Public petition from residents of Ovirino Ouru Village to the Senate by Senator Emma Mbura.
https://centerforjgea.com/assets/SENATE_REPORT_2015.pdf

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

(VIDEO) Kenya : le combat de Phyllis Omido pour fermer une usine qui empoisonnait les villageois
https://actu.orange.fr/france/videos/kenya-le-combat-de-phyllis-omido-pour-fermer-une-usine-qui-empoisonnait-les-villageois-CNT0000019FSC1.html

(VIDEO-Conference) Diritti senza confini. Parla l'attivista keniota Phyllis Omido
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq1rKSF0vQM

Other documents

Metal Refinery Lawsuit (2016)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Metal_Refinery_Lawsuit-2.pdf

Phyllis Omido, environmental activists and Goldman Prize winner
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Diapositiva7-4-768x432.jpg

Cases of Lead Pollution in Sub-Saharian Africa Source: Desirée García and Javier Marín (2019) Vidas Envenenadas. At: El Confidencial, Special Report.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/1461754611.jpg

The lead-acid battery smelter, visible in the background of this photo, lead to a mass poisoning in Owino Uhuru, a village in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city. Source: Zoë Schlanger on March 18, 2018

Retrieved from https://qz.com/africa/1231792/a-battery-recycling-plant-owned-by-indian-businessmen-caused-a-lead-poisoning-crisis-in-kenya/ on August 2019.
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/owino-uhuru-smelter-1-e1521324200594.jpg

Omido and other villagers Phyllis Omido walks through the village of Owino Uhuru. She has been keeping a close eye on the lead exposure that has plagued this settlement since a nearby smelter began operations in 2007. Photo/CNN
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Phyllis-omido-CNN.jpg

Other comments:This smelter is related to a bigger industry, the solar energy industry. As the small-scale solar industry grows in Kenya and in the world, so does battery demand; each new solar arrays needs lead-acid batteries for power storage. There are several similar conflicts in China.
"Lead is defined as a commodity and not a residue, that is why is not recognized under the Basilea Convention, so, its trade is legal" Andreas Manhart, Okö-Institut.

Meta information

Contributor:Grettel Navas, ENVJustice Project
Last update18/08/2019

Images

 

Cases of Lead Pollution in Sub-Saharian Africa

Source: Desirée García and Javier Marín (2019) Vidas Envenenadas. At: El Confidencial, Special Report.

The lead-acid battery smelter, visible in the background of this photo, lead to a mass poisoning in Owino Uhuru, a village in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city.

Source: Zoë Schlanger on March 18, 2018 Retrieved from https://qz.com/africa/1231792/a-battery-recycling-plant-owned-by-indian-businessmen-caused-a-lead-poisoning-crisis-in-kenya/ on August 2019.

Phyllis Omido, environmental activists and Goldman Prize winner

 

Omido and other villagers

Phyllis Omido walks through the village of Owino Uhuru. She has been keeping a close eye on the lead exposure that has plagued this settlement since a nearby smelter began operations in 2007. Photo/CNN