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Sick South African miners sue AngloAmerican in London

Published on 21/09/2011

South African gold miners suffering from a lung disease are suing the local subsidiary of Anglo American in London, potentially for hundreds of millions of pounds, lawyers said Wednesday.

A group of 450 mainly black ex-miners for the South African subsidiary of the London-listed firm claim to have contracted silicosis, during years of toiling underground. The case was filed at a London High Court.

“The miners allege they are suffering from silicosis and silico-tuberculosis from exposure to dangerous levels of dust on the company’s South African gold mines,” London-based law firm Leigh Day & Co said in a statement.

Cases of the disease — caused by inhaling tiny dust particles that are a by-product of mining — date back for decades, involving claims of excessive dust at mines until 1998, it said.

Signs of the disease can take up to 20 years to develop as the dust damages lung tissues, preventing oxygen from flowing into the body. There is no cure for the disease.

The law firm cited as a precedent a lawsuit in which 7,500 South African asbestos miners successfully sued British multinational Cape Plc over their illnesses.

Lawyer Richard Meeran accused Anglo of disregarding basic practices in the industry, like dust control measures that have existed for a century.

“What we allege is the disregard of the industry, in its drive for profit, for miners’ health,” he said.

AngloAmerican is one of the world’s largest mining firms with interests in platinum, diamond, iron ore and coal mining.