ABUJA, Nigeria, Oct. 5 (UPI) — A lead pollution crisis in Nigeria due to “backyard” gold digging has killed hundreds and left thousands at risk, a United Nations investigation says.
A spike in lead-related illnesses and deaths in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara was caused by attempts by locals to extract gold from lead-contaminated soils in and around their houses and compounds, a team from the U.N. Environment Program and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
“Rapid and coordinated intervention is imperative,” the five-member team said after collecting and analyzing soil and water samples from five villages.
Lead poisoning can damage children’s neurological systems, leading to reduced IQ, behavioral disorders and loss of muscle control, a U.N. release said.
It also threatens the unborn since it passes directly through the placenta, leading to stillbirths and birth defects and, in breastfeeding, passes freely to babies through mothers’ milk.
At one former mine processing site in the village of Bagega, with some 8,000 inhabitants, air mercury levels of 5,000 nanograms per cubic meter were registered, a hundred times the maximum recommended level of 50.
Mercury, which is used in gold extraction processes, affects the nervous and digestive systems when inhaled.
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