Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) Plc in Chingola has shut down its Acid Plant after it discharged sulphur dioxide resulting in over 45 employees and school children suffocating.

The employees had been hospitalized after suffocation from sulphur dioxide at Nchanga South Hospital, with several pupils at Nchanga Trust School also rushed to same health facility after being affected by the sulphur dioxide discharge.

In an interview, KCM corporate affairs manager Eugene Chungu said that investigations were still ongoing to ascertain the cause of the emission.

“As things are today, the plant has been shut down, the acid plant where we anticipate was the source of the emission, it’s been shut down. And then, all the people that were affected have been taken to the hospital, they have been assessed and some in fact have been discharged; all the employees have been assessed and been determined to be well and they will be discharged this (Friday) afternoon. The pupils, themselves, those in exam-writing grades will be allowed to write exams this (Friday) afternoon. Currently, we are undertaking investigations and they have still not been concluded, once they conclude, I will make sure I send you the comprehensive statement,” said Chungu.

And when reached for comment, KCM provisional liquidator Milingo Lungu said mining remained a dangerous activity and that accidents could happen at any time.

And Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) corporate affairs manager Irene Chipili stated that the Agency had dispatched inspectors to Chingola to carry out detailed investigations into the latest incident.

“ZEMA would like to inform members of the general public that there was an incident recorded last night, 14th November, 2019 at KCM Nchanga Mine involving an abnormal discharge of sulphur dioxide from the Sulphur Burner component of the Acid Plant. This unfortunate incident resulted in a number of people living in the surrounding areas of the plant being affected by the emissions. Preliminary information made available by KCM indicates that some people have been hospitalized,” stated Chipili, Friday.

“As an immediate action, the Acid Plant has been shutdown to facilitate investigations into the circumstances regarding this discharge and ZEMA has since dispatched inspectors to Chingola to carry out detailed investigations into this incident. Further regulatory action will be undertaken in line with provisions of the Environmental Management Act No. 12 of 2011 (“EMA).”

Prior to this latest accident, Milingo Lungu had stated that KCM had ramped up production despite the Nchanga smelter still undergoing a planned shutdown.

In a statement released, Wednesday, Milingo noted that the Nchanga smelter was set to resume operations by this Tuesday.

“Konkola Copper Mines Plc (KCM) has continued to ramp up production at all the Business Units including Nchanga Business Unit, Konkola Business Unit and Nampundwe Mine near Lusaka, while the Smelter at Nchanga is undergoing a planned shutdown. The Smelter is scheduled to restart operations by November 19, 2019. The Konkola Underground Mine at Chililabombwe is targeting close to 2,000t of integrated copper in concentrates this month while Nchanga Underground and Nchanga Open Pit Mines have targeted 1,300t of copper in concentrates. The Tailings Leach Plant (TLP) at Nchanga has set a target of at least 3,000t of cathodes for the month of November,” stated Milingo.

“Management, employees and contractors are doing a good job and my focus continues to be ensuring that we nurture the value of the KCM asset. This requires improving the Company’s production, but also securing the funding to help sustain the KCM’s working capital, which was completely eroded during the previous era.”