Zhou is one of the many victims affected by the lead contamination in Lower Klity Creek, a remote village in Thailand close to the Burma border. For more than 20 years its residents, who are mostly ethnic Karen, have been coping with the contamination caused by a nearby lead mine which has been dumping the wastewater into the main river flowing through the village.
People dependent on the river for drinking and fishing have fallen sick; many have been diagnosed with lead poisoning. Although there are no medical reports recording many of these problems, villagers claim that more than ten people have died. The rest still suffer from symptoms such as aches, fatigue, dizziness, loss of memory, and numbness. Some children, like Zhou Sen, have been struck with developmental and mental disorders. Other villagers have been blinded.
Although the mine shut down 17 years ago, the creek has never been restored and the concentration of lead in the sediment remains 20 times higher than normal, and the consequences for the village have been severe.
“In the past, people in Kilty used to lead a self-sustainable life. They have had rice plantations or livestock. When they had to go to the hospital, for example, they would sell a buffalo,” said human-rights lawyer Surapong Kongchantuk. “But after the contamination, their livestock could not drink water from the creek and many animals have died. Their life has changed. They cannot fish anymore, they have to buy the fish instead.”