Glencore's sulphur pollution removal in Mufulira


This is Amos’s story and how he played his part in the removal of sulphur pollution from the town of Mufulira. At the time of this photo in 2009, Amos was 13 years old and a member of the Eco Group at Mine Basic school in the town of Mufulira in Zambia.

When I visited his school, in sight of the Glencore Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) mine/smelter/refinery complex, it was plain to see the effects of pollution. The land was bleached, plants grown for food were stunted and sulphur emissions caused breathing difficulties in the local populace on a daily basis.

On the day of my visit, I had just passed through an invisible sulphurous gas emission that caused choking even through the closed windows of the taxi in which I was travelling. [I should explain for the benefit of those who have not experienced inhalation of sulphurous gases, that it is not what you expect. There is no smell, you become hard of breathing, and have the irrational feeling of being strangled. For those already suffering from Aids, TB, or silicosis, it is life-threatening].

Amos and his school friends, supported by a tiny British Council grant of T-shirts, pencils and notebooks, had formed themselves into a Climate Change Group. Led by their charismatic teacher, Godfridah Mwimbe, the children had collected data from the Mufulira area and asked questions of their elders such as ‘Why must our community suffer the daily effects of pollution?’

It seemed to me that this issue was of relevance to us all. Why should we in the developed world enjoy the vast benefits that copper brings, when it was being produced at so high a cost to local communities involved with its extraction?

So, upon entering the classroom, I wrote the name of the mine’s owner on the blackboard and asked them each to write a letter in their best hand-writing to communicate what it was like to live with the daily effects of sulphur. This they did, and it was the beginning of a campaign which resulted, in 2014, at a cost of $150 mln, with the opening of a modern gas capture plant now removing 98% of all gas emissions.

The Mufulira mine remains the oldest and deepest (1480m) Copper mine in Africa and in 2010 the complex was responsible for the processing and export of a quarter of all Zambia’s Copper (200,000mt). Today, in 2016, with prices half what they were, Glencore remains fully committed both to the town and its copper production. In fact, Glencore have built a new training school to develop the best possible local mining skills which is world class.

Glencore engaged with us, and put into action the remedial measures that are now alleviating airborne pollution. The job is not over, the land will take time to recover, and communities in Africa do not see enough of the benefit that metals can bring; but the attitude that what takes place many thousands of miles away from the capitals of Europe may take place at lower standards than we would expect in the EU is being challenged.

The MMTA continues to work in partnership with the Cary Mufulira Community Partnership Trust (CMCPT) who have been exchanging pupils and teachers with Mufulira for almost 25 years. In 2017, the MMTA signified the deepening links with Mufulira by setting up a charity called Friends of Mufulira (FOM) supported by our members.

Mufulira has become a symbol for all communities from which metals come and for this reason the MMTA supports UK-Zambia links with the schools of Mufulira, an ongoing water project at Kamuchanga District Hospital and a UK-Zambia medical elective bursary linked to Liverpool University.

If you would like to donate to these causes or be more closely involved with the MMTA-Zambia link, please contact me or Freya Kerwin at the MMTA.

© 2020 Lipmann Walton & Co. Ltd

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