Mine denies chronic lead exposure cover-up

Trevali Mining Corporation, previously known as Rosh Pinah Zinc Corporation, this week denied allegations of a lead exposure cover-up.

Vice president of operations Sheron Kaviua in a statement released yesterday said the company is aware of allegations of lead exposure among children which has become the subject of an ongoing investigation.

She said Trevali is supporting health authorities which have since visited the site.

Kaviua said the company denies any allegations of a cover-up.

“As this matter remains the subject of both external and internal investigations, Rosh Pinah will address any substantiated findings forthwith to safeguard the health and well-being of our employees and affected communities, which remains our highest priority,” she said.

“Rosh Pinah remains committed to ensuring that its employees and communities enjoy a safe and healthy working environment.

“It will continue to enhance its existing lead management programme which serves to substantially reduce exposure to lead concentrate – not only with its employees, but also communities, which may be affected by its mining operations,” Kaviua said.

Labour consultant Paul Dausab on Monday said Trevali Mining Corporation commissioned a report from their head of occupational health, Dr Johan Truter, three years ago on lead exposure among children and infants.

He said tests were reportedly conducted on 30 children and chronic lead exposure was found, but the mine has allegedly been suppressing this report in which the doctor recommended that concrete measures be taken.

The doctor allegedly also advised the company to inform the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism of the situation.

“We can no longer keep quiet about this thing as these findings were three years ago, and what has been done about it? You cannot barter with our children’s health because the mine has to make money,” Dausab said.

The deputy minister of health and social services, Ester Muinjangue, on Tuesday announced that cases of chronic lead exposure have been reported at Rosh Pinah.
She said the Lüderitz district and the town of Rosh Pinah in July reported 10 cases of chronic lead exposure among children between the ages of one and 12.

“On 6 July, a regional management team was dispatched to Rosh Pinah to investigate. A follow-up visit is scheduled for 17 to 21 July to conduct a further extensive review of records, engage the community, and render psychosocial support.

“The team will comprise occupational health, communicable disease control, the World Health Organisation, epidemiologists, laboratories, etc,” Muinjangue said.

In one instance of tests conducted by a local doctor, a one-year-old baby exhibited a lead concentration of 25 micrograms per deilitre, while a two-year-old child had a concentration of 22 micrograms per deilitre.

The blood-lead level for children should not exceed 5 micrograms per decilitre.

The deputy leader of the Landless Peoples’ Movement, Henny Seibeb, has given notice to parliament that he will ask the minister of mines and energy, Tom Alweendo, on 14 September whether his office is aware of the situaiton and what action it is taking.

“In some countries, a blood-lead reference value of 3,5 micrograms per decilitre is utilised, and if this lower value was applied in Namibia, it is possible that more children would be identified as having lead exposure.

“We need to find out from the minister when they plan to conduct joint meetings with Cabinet colleagues to investigate these issues thoroughly and deliver a comprehensive briefing to this esteemed house,” Seibeb said this week.

He said it is crucial that such information is released and in the public domain as it would enable parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take early action to reduce the children’s future exposure to lead.

Trevali Mining Corporation has reiterated its commitment to health and safety, saying in the past, the mine has actioned campaigns with employees who continue to be tested during pre- and annual medical surveillance without any incidents of Namibian lead regulation requirements having been breached.

“Notwithstanding community lead initiatives aimed at creating awareness of potential lead exposure, Rosh Pinah shares the related concerns and takes these allegations very seriously,” the vice president of operations said.

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