JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti have reached a $30 million settlement with 4,400 gold miners who contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis while working underground, the companies and lawyers said on Friday.
A disease which causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, silicosis is caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks.
Lawsuits filed against the industry over the illness have alleged miners were provided with insufficient protection.
Compensation will be provided to claimants diagnosed with silicosis who worked for either company for at least two years. Anglo American quit the bullion sector in 2009, the effective cut-off date for its claimants.
“This settlement is a triumph for justice and accountability. It will bring much-needed financial relief to the victims and their families,” said Richard Meeran of Leigh Day, one of the law firms that represented the miners.
“This scheme provides a model and, we hope, the necessary impetus for an industry-wide settlement for all gold mining silicosis victims,” he said.
The settlement is separate from a silicosis class action suit against the industry currently waiting for the green light to proceed from the Johannesburg High Court.
Many of the affected miners come from neighboring countries such as Lesotho.
The companies noted that “the settlement has been reached without admission of liability by AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American South Africa and the terms of the agreement remain confidential.”
Both companies will contribute, in stages, up to 464 million rand ($30 million) to an independent trust that will determine compensation for claimants.
South Africa’s gold industry has been declining for years but its prospects and cash flows have improved in recent months because of a rising gold price and a sharp fall in the rand currency.
Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Ed Cropley