Pollution of The Kafue River by Konkola Copper Mines


Zambia’s largest coppermine, Konkola Copper Mines recently polluted the Kafue River in Chingola and Chililabombwe and the after effects are clearly visible in these towns.

With emphasis only on making profits at the expense of the environment, KCM overlooked pollution control measures and this resulted into the discharge of a large volume of pollutants into the Kafue River and surrounding streams.

On November 6,2006 the company discharged effluent into the Kafue with large traces of copper, manganese and cobalt which are dangerous heavy metals.There was 10mg/l of copper,38.5mg/l of manganese and 1 mg/l of cobalt .The standard maximum limit is 1 mg/ of copper,0.05 mg/l of manganese and 0.05 mg/l of cobalt discharge per day. Comparing these figures the discharge of these metals showed an increase of 1000% of copper, 77% of manganese and 10760 % of cobalt out of compliance.

Evidence of this pollution was seen in the colour of water coming from the taps. In Chingola, the colour of water in the surrounding streams and the Kafue River was green , from the taps it was brown and muddy. Apart from that the slurry dams discharged effluent of 1.5 pH.This level entails this was almost pure acid.Due to this level of acid the pipes carrying the tailings gave in and burst.The leaching process in the plant was going on without lime being added because it was out of stock.This is something that has never happened in the history of the mines.

It must be noted here that Chingola has about 75000 people depending on piped water from the Kafue River and underground.This means that there was a direct effect on the people as well as the environment.

The Chingola Industrial area with numerous tailings dams and impendiments is drained by Mushishima,Muntimpa,Musenga and Chingloa streams.The tributaries rise in headwater dambos.These dambos which are saucer-shaped depressions cover 6% to 7% of the land surface.This shows that Chingola is generally low lying around the dambos implying that surface run-off would easily drain the effluent into these nearby streams especially in the rainy season.

The main cause for the disharge of non-copmliant effluents relates to excessive spillage originating from the plant process vessels like thickeners, pumps,valves and containment areas.Maintainance is non-existent as the mines is only interested in maximising profits.


The long term effects on people due to repeated exposure to cobalt is allergic respiratory reaction (Ashtma).Chronic inhalation of particulate which may lead to restricted pulmonary function and lung fibriosis (scarrying). Chronic ingestion may result in heart damage and or failure,vomiting, convulsions,and thyroid enlargement.It may also cause dermatitis.


Repeated long term exposure to copper discolours the skin ,hair and causes skin irratation , mild dermitatis, runny nose and irritation of the mucous membranes.If there is repeated ingestion , it may cause damage to the liver and kidneys.


Toxicity through inhalation may result in ‘manganism”which is a disease of the central nervous system involving psychic and neurological disorders.

The effects experienced by residents include diarrhoea, swelling of eyes and skin irritations.

Aquatic Life

Fish ,frogs and crocodiles died because of the lack of oxygen in the water.Aquatic life is diminishing because of the high levels of pollution.


Cattle losses have been reported due to consuming copper-rich sediments stirred up at the time of drinking water near the Mwambashi River.

Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) is a statutory body charged with responsibility of regulating and enforcing environmental legislation. (broad coverage of the ECZ will be done later .Check on this page later)

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6 Responses to “Pollution of The Kafue River by Konkola Copper Mines”

  1. Mr Biebrach Says:

    A very interesting and concerning report Mr Phiri. We will be comparing this with industrial pollution in South Wales as part of our joint study. The UK Environment Agency monitor our local river (the river Ogmore), and have recorded pollution from a variety of industries including FordUK (a large car engine assembly plant). We also study the environmental management schemes employed by the giant Sony factory that is located next to Pencoed School. There is a large environmental monitoring area within the complex that you will hopefully visit (if our funding is accepted).

  2. Mr Biebrach Says:

    I have just been researching this incident and I did not realise just how serious this accident was. This will be something that we should film and bring to the attention of the wider world.

  3. Dan Says:

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer living in a village about 10 kilometers from the mine when this incident happened. The managers of Nchanga Mine have a lot of explaining to do when it comes to their treatment of workers and the environment.

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