Large numbers of infants and toddlers have died from lead poisoning in Nigerian villages where their parents process gold ore inside their family compounds, according to a report published Tuesday by an international team of researchers.
In two Nigerian communities, 118 children under the age of 5 died in a single year – 25 percent of the children in that age group. For the first time, the researchers uncovered strong evidence that points to lead as the likely cause for nearly all of those deaths. In addition, all of the surviving children who were tested suffered from lead poisoning, too.
Artisanal gold mining is small-scale, subsistence mining that occurs mostly in poor, rural communities. In the Nigerian villages, people use crude, rudimentary processes to extract gold from ore, including grinding and heating the rock. In some cases, flour-grinding machines are used. These activities contaminate the air and soil with large amounts of lead and mercury, both of which cause neurological problems in children.