4 January 2008

Zambia: Water Pollution Affects 800 Mufulira Residents

ABOUT 800 people in Mufulira were treated at two hospitals for stomach and other complications after they consumed water supplied from Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) underground source.

Copperbelt Minister, Mwansa Mbulakulima, said yesterday in an interview that 500 people were treated at Ronald Ross while close to 300 were attended to at Malcolm Watson Mine Hospitals on Wednesday as the Government constituted a team to establish the cause of the pollution.

But in a statement released yesterday, MCM chief services officer, Passmore Hamukoma, said there were more than 350 people who were attended to on Wednesday, out of whom five were hospitalised for overnight observation.

"We received a number of complaints from people living in Kantanshi Township - abdominal pains - after drinking tap water. Over 350 people were attended to and 25 had genuine stomach complaints and five were hospitalised. Four have been discharged and the remaining one is in a stable condition," he said.

Mr Hamukoma said the pollution was caused by a pump failure in the Leach section of the mine on 520-metre level.

"Irrigation from surface was immediately reduced to restrict the volume of raffinate entering the underground workings. As a result of this and other emergency measurers only minor contamination of water being pumped to surface occurred and supply to treatment plant was halted," he explained.

Mr Mbulakulima on the other hand said he and other officials who included provincial Permanent Secretary, Jennifer Musonda, conducted an on-the-spot check at the two hospitals from late afternoon on Wednesday up to 19:30 hours.

The minister said at Malcolm Watson Mine Hospital, initially 397 people were attended to but the number rose to 500 in the evening.

At Ronald Ross Hospital, 212 people were treated up to early afternoon but the number increased to about 300 after people who had initially thought they had 'minor' stomach complications realised that the problem was as a result of water pollution from the mines.

Mr Mbulakulima said sensitisation and effective water testing and monitoring process should be put in place instead of apportioning the blame now because the problem was a serious one.

Early in the morning yesterday, MCM chief executive officer, Emmanuel Mutati, along with his senior officials, Mufulira Town Clerk, Charles Mwandila, Mulonga Water and Sewerage Company managing director Manuel Mutale and officials from the Mine Safety Department (MSD) inspected the underground mine at 520 metres level.

Employees interviewed yesterday said the acid, which was used in the InSitu Leach section spilled over after the pump failure and when the dewatering process started traces of acid were also pumped out and eventually got into the Mulonga water system.

The polluted water was pumped to Kantanshi, Kankoyo, Butondo, and Fairview area of the town centre from the Mine Site water treatment plant supplied from MCM.

Mr Mutale, who was in the company of engineers and National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) director, Oswald Chanda, indicated that the acid had been cleared in the system and hoped that by the end of the day yesterday, supply could be restored.

Mr Mwandila said he had arranged a council fire tender while MCM had also released its machine to distribute water to the affected areas as an interim measurer.

He said he was part of the team constituted to look into the cause of the pollution.

Others were Mr Mutale, MSD officials, Environmental Council of Zambia representatives, Mufulira District Commissioner, Dyford Muulwa and a representative from the provincial administration.

On Wednesday, residents almost rioted after some people who had consumed polluted water were rushed to the hospital, prompting authorities to deploy police officers in the three affected townships, the town centre and other strategic areas.

Police sealed off the hospital premises as residents in panic thronged the area to check the condition of the patients.

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