An international aid agency says 400 children have died from lead poisoning in northwestern Nigeria as against 200 deaths reported earlier and contamination has spread to two more villages.
The U.K.-based office of Doctors Without Borders says residents in Zamfara State are receiving treatment after small-scale gold mining operations poisoned the area beginning in March.
The mining operations involve crushing and drying ore to extract bits of precious metal. The most recent batches of ore also contained lead. The mining process spread lead particles throughout the villages, contaminating living quarters, communal areas and water supplies.
Recently, the United Nations sent five experts equipped with a mobile laboratory to the country to help health authorities pin down the extent of the contamination and tackle it, the UN’s Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
“From the latest figures we have, more than 200 children reportedly died from this poisoning,” OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told journalists as the UN body warned of “acute massive lead poisoning.”
Byrs told AFP that “an estimated 18,000 people were affected” in the villages around the gold mining area in northern Zamfara State, around Bukkuyum and Anka.
ping problem. Seven villages were affected but we don’t know the full extent,” she added. “Proper sampling from the mobile laboratory is urgently needed to determine the scope and magnitude of the crisis and to assist in developing a rigorous response,” according to an OCHA briefing note.
The poisoning was triggered by makeshift processing of lead-rich ore to extract gold, with crushed rock often taken into homes and communities, while the residue is discarded haphazardly in the soil.
Nigerian health authorities first noticed excess mortality in the area in March and brought in international help weeks later, but the extent of the poisoning and contamination appears to have grown.