Toxic Apocalypse #26: 100 Years of Lead Contamination in Kabwe, Zambia

Newest Toxic Apocalypse is a devastated land where mining has permanently contaminated soil water and humans

Kabwe, ZambiaAnother of Africa’s toxic urban wastelands

Kabwe is located about 90 miles north of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city in the region know as the Copperbelt. Following the discovery of zinc and lead deposits in the early 20th century, the area was booming industrial zone. Unregulated mining and smelting characterized the region until 1994. When industry closed down the mines and smelters, they left behind a classic Toxic Apocalypse: a city poisoned by heavy concentrations of lead dust in the soil and by metals in the water. The distribution of toxic lead, cadmium, copper, and zinc extends over a 14 mile radius.Lead blood concentrations in Kabwe have been found at levels 60% higher than the amount considered fatal, a result of contamination from decades of unsafe lead and cadmium mining and smelting.

Virtually all of this activity was unregulated through the 20th Century, allowing 100 years worth of toxic metal to leach into the soil. On average, children’s blood lead levels in Kabwe are 5 to 10 times the permissible EPA maximum and in many cases are close to those regarded as potentially fatal. Children who play in the soil and young men who scavenge the mines for scraps of metal are most susceptible to lead produced by the mine and smelter.

For a global view of places too toxic to clean up or where no one lives any more, or have simply ceased to exist, visit the Toxic Apocalypse Hall of Fame

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