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Rural villagers in Madagascar take legal action against Rio Tinto over lead pollution

Rural villagers in Madagascar take legal action against Rio Tinto over lead pollution


A group of rural villagers from Madagascar has initiated legal proceedings against the UK/Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, alleging that pollution from a nearby mine has led to dangerous levels of uranium and lead in their bodies

The 64 residents of the Anosy region in southern Madagascar assert that the QIT Minerals Madagascar (QMM) mine in Fort Dauphin, majority-owned by Rio Tinto, has contaminated surrounding lakes and waterways with toxic metals. These water sources serve as the primary drinking and domestic water supply for up to 15,000 individuals in the area.

Lead exposure is especially detrimental to young children, causing permanent brain damage and a range of cognitive and behavioural disorders. Uranium exposure poses risks to the body's development, increases cancer rates, and harms kidney function.

The QMM mine produces ilmenite, used in manufacturing titanium dioxide, a pigment found in paints, food, cosmetics, and other products. Independent studies indicate that mine wastewater containing high levels of uranium and lead has been discharged into the surrounding environment.

Lawyers from Leigh Day, representing the villagers, assert that Rio Tinto's operations have caused significant harm and loss to the community. Villagers rely on contaminated water sources for drinking, washing, fishing, and cooking, exacerbating health risks.

In a letter of claim sent to Rio Tinto's London headquarters, Leigh Day demands ongoing monitoring of lead levels and medical care for affected individuals. Due to concerns about reprisals, the identities of the claimants remain undisclosed.

Rio Tinto refutes claims of pollution, citing evidence of low uranium levels in water. The company asserts that its water management systems prevent increased exposure to radiological hazards.

The Anosy region, ecologically diverse and home to approximately 500,000 people, faces poverty, food insecurity, and water scarcity. Leigh Day partner Paul Dowling emphasises the villagers' pursuit of justice and accountability, urging Rio Tinto to address the community's concerns promptly.