Lead Poisoning Kills 28 Children



Twenty-eight children were killed in the outbreak of lead poisoning in Niger State, thereby creating panic and possible spread to neighbouring Kaduna State

By Olu Ojewale  |  May 25, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

AN outbreak of lead poisoning has killed 28 children in Niger State.  Health officials who broke the news on Wednesday, May 13, said at least 65 cases were identified in which lead poisoning was linked as the cause.

Reports said that as of Tuesday, 17 girls and 11 boys all under the age of five died from lead poisoning and more sick children were being treated at various health facilities.

Briefing the press in Abuja on Wednesday, May 13, Fidelis Nwankwo, minister of state for health, said farm animals were also affected by the lead poisoning outbreak. “The devastating impact of this outbreak is associated with new mining sites, which were found to contain more leaded ores, which are often brought home for crushing and processing,” Nwankwo said. The minister said further findings revealed a serious impact on our livestock with cows, goats and chicken most affected.

Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, head of port health services, who led the scoping team to Niger State, said: “Within the vicinity of these villages, there are so many gold deposits that have been mined for several years, nothing happened. But now they have exhausted those fields and moved over to another larger field, and that is where they are digging this particular rock that has much higher lead in it.” The federal health ministry said the current outbreak was more serious than the famous Zamfara lead poisoning-which killed hundreds of children-because the lead ore implicated in the Niger incident was more poisonous killing off animals and also children.

Although lead poisoning is not contagious, officials expressed concern that the affects had already spread into neighbouring Kaduna State. Illegal gold mining is a lucrative business for impoverished local people in Nigeria.  In most cases, people that are engaged in the illegal mining sometimes chose to conceal or deny fatalities and sickness from lead poisoning in fear of consequences from authorities.

According to reports, many of them bring rocks inside their homes and use unsafe mining techniques to process gold ore whereby they are exposed to lead. Although lead poisoning cannot be spread from person-to-person, lead-containing particles can be transported through inhaling or ingestion by people. The short-term effects of lead poisoning include acute fever, convulsions, loss of consciousness and blindness, with anaemia, kidney failure and brain damage among the long-term effects.

In recent years, hundreds of Nigerian children have been killed by lead poisoning. For instance, in 2010, at least 400 children died and 2,000 others affected from lead poisoning in Zamfara State. The outbreak was caused by the processing of lead-containing gold ore in the North-Western state where lead contamination was identified in about 50 villages.

The dangerous illegal mining practice is reputed to be responsible for contamination of water and food crops, which are easily consumed by people, especially young children, a study by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, NCDCP, revealed. “When inhaled or ingested, lead can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, bone marrow and other body systems in young children,” the NCDCP said in a report last year.

Abdulsalam Nasidi, director-general of the NCDCP, said the Niger State sites had more lead than those of Zamfara State, hence the need to act urgently. He promised that government would deploy experts in the affected areas to curtail the incident.


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