News / Africa

Poison From Unregulated Mining Kills More than 160 in Nigeria

Lead poisoning has killed more than 160 people over the last month in Nigeria's northern Zamfara state.  It is the result of illegal gold mining.

Nigerians in half a dozen villages in the Anka and Bukkuyum Local Government Areas have been exposed to deadly amounts of lead that have already killed more than 160 people and are likely to leave far more with long-term neurological damage.

Unregulated miners use lead to help leach gold from ground-up rock.  The lead is then spread by dust from the open-pit mines and by women who process the ore in their compounds.  Some of the children poisoned are now blind, deaf, and unable to walk.

Despite the warnings, some local miners say they do not believe there is anything wrong with using lead.

Gold miner Abubakar Dareta says he does not think it is the mining that caused the deaths in these villages.  I have been mining for years, he says, and I am not dead.

The federal government last month asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to oversee blood tests for lead which can damage the brain and nervous system, leading to seizures.  The aid group Doctors Without Borders has opened a medical center for children in the area.

Village chief Mohammed Bello says they need help cleaning the open-pit mines and treating those who have been exposed.

Bello says gold mining has brought disaster to his village.  But with the support of local groups, he says they have been able to slow the poisoning even before federal authorities came.

The federal government has intervened to check unregulated mining in the area and is excavating contaminated soil from illegal mining sites.  Health officials say 48 children have been moved to the Bukkuyum General Hospital for treatment, and there have been no new deaths in the past few days.

Miners Association of Nigeria President Sani Shehu says his group is working with the government to organize artisanal miners into formal cooperatives where authorities can better regulate exposure to radioactive and poisonous gases.

Shehu says the miners' association has already registered more than 200 cooperative groups of informal miners with help from the federal government and the World Bank.

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