THE Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) and villagers living along Save River are seeking a court order to bar three diamond mining companies in Marange district from polluting water sources.

Zela is a common law trust established to promote environmental justice in the country.

In a High Court application last week, Zela and the villagers alleged that Anjin Investments, Marange Resources and Diamond Mining Corporation (DMC) were polluting Save, Singwizi and Odzi rivers with sewage, chemicals and metal deposits.

Zela said the discharges by Anjin, Marange Resources and DMC exposed inhabitants of villages living along the banks of Odzi, Singwizi and Save Rivers to risks of contracting diseases such as cancer, cholera and typhoid.

“The said risks arise from heavy metals, chemicals and untreated sewage and affluent discharged into the rivers by the companies,” says the papers.

The pollution of the rivers, said Zela, has destroyed aquatic life like fish in Odzi and Save rivers as well as disturbing their ecosystems.

A biological and chemical study carried out by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) on behalf of Zela in July this year, confirmed that people who live along rivers in the area were at risk of contracting cancer and other diseases because the companies were dumping dangerous chemicals into the three rivers.

It said the three rivers showed high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel in the water, elements which are the major constituents of ferro-silicon (FSESI), a chemical compound used in diamond extraction.

“Chromium and nickel are potentially carcinogenic agents (cancer-causing agents) and therefore they pose an immediate health risk to people and livestock,” says the study.

“The high levels of iron in the water suggest that the local population could be at risk of iron poisoning, as they exceeded stipulated WHO standards.”

According to the study, high levels of fluoride in the water posed the risk of diseases such as dental and skeletal fluorosis. Dental fluorosis relates to the poor development of the teeth while skeletal fluorosis is a bone disease caused by excessive consumption of fluoride.

There is also a high level of bacterial contamination in the rivers, “posing an immediate risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid”.

The pollution of the two rivers has also adversely affected the sources of livelihood of thousands of households in four districts of Chipinge, Chimanimani, Buhera and Mutare West.

Anjin fined by EMA for polluting Odzi River

On July 23 this year, Zela through their lawyers, Scanlen & Holderness wrote to Anjin demanding that the company cease discharging the pollutants into the Save, Singwizi and Odzi rivers.

“Investigations made show that the source of the discharges is your mine operations,” says the letter. “Our instructions are to demand from you, as we hereby do, that you cease discharging the polluting material into the Odzi river failing which we will take legal action without notice to you.”

But in a letter dated July 26 2012, Anjin denied discharging pollutants into the rivers saying water containing sand mud was filtered in sedimentation ponds to avoid pollution.

The company claimed to have constructed 20 sedimentation ponds.

But the letter signed by Anjin senior official, Brigadier-General Charles Tarumbwa, painted a different picture: “Honestly speaking, it happened one or two times. Pumps broke down and little recycled water was not pumped away in time, resulting in the overflow of the water from the ponds, for which the company has received criticism and was fined by EMA (Environmental Management Agency).”