House team directs firms to deposit security bonds to pay pollution victims

Thursday March 3 2016

The National Assembly in session.  FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The National Assembly in session. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOHN NJAGI
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A parliamentary committee has proposed a fund that will help compensate families that are afflicted by pollution by firms that operate near their residential areas.

The recommendation follows the poisoning of 50 residents in Mombasa County.

The National Assembly Environmental Committee directed that firms involved in “risky” operations near residential areas to deposit security bonds, which families who may be exposed to health hazards can tap into to pay their medical bills.

Following investigations into lead poisoning at Owino-Uhuru village in Mombasa, the committee, chaired by nominated MP Amina Abdalla, also recommended that the two companies that set up battery recycling in the area, Metal Refinery EPZ and Max Industries, compensate all those affected.

During the tabling of the report in the House on Wednesday, Ms Abdalla also called for the gazettement of regulations requiring companies operating near human settlements to deposit security bonds

“The national government should fast-track the gazettement of the 1999 regulations requiring proponents of projects to deposit security bonds with Nema.
“The regulations should be forwarded to the National Assembly as per the provisions of the Statutory Instruments Act, within three weeks of the tabling of this report,” she said.

HEALTH COMPLICATIONS

The report, compiled by a sub-committee of nine MPs who visited the village, whose residents are faced with lifelong health complications, including possible loss of life, also recommended that the two companies responsible for depositing lead, a metal hazardous to human health, compensate all the victims.

“Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd and Max Industries should be held responsible for the lead poisoning and should be made to treat and compensate all the people affected by lead poisoning arising from their activities,” says the report.

The National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) should also institute criminal proceedings against the two companies as well as the Mombasa County government to compel them to clean and restore the environment in the area to its original state.

The committee also recommends that Nema, tasked with assessing dangers posed to human and animal health before companies set up factories in their neighbourhoods, should in future consult other relevant agencies before issuing licences to such firms.

Nema should only issue the greenlight for such companies to operate when there is no objection from other agencies such as the public health department.

CHECK-UPS
Ms Abdalla also directed the Mombasa County government to ensure all the residents of Owino-Uhuru are tested to check whether they have been exposed to lead poisoning, and ensure those with traces of the dangerous metals in their blood receive continuous medical treatment.
She also urges the county to conduct public consultations with the affected residents so as to relocate them to safer grounds.
The battery recycling factories were set up at the dusty village in Mombasa in 2007, but in 2010, residents started complaining after the death of one of the residents from suspected lead poisoning.
The report also notes a number of children developed mental retardation, a medical condition referred to as lead encephalopathy, leading to closure of the projects and launching of investigations.
Tests done on the affected residents showed they had high levels of lead poisoning in the blood system, way above what is considered to be safe levels to avert health complications.