Programme to reduce lead poisoning in Nigerian communities yielding result — Study

A pilot programme introduced to reduce lead poisoning in Nigerian gold mining communities has yielded positive result, a new study has revealed.

The study titled “Reducing Lead and Silica Dust Exposures in Small-Scale Mining in Northern Nigeria” shows that the programme has brought extraordinary improvements to an area where hundreds of children had died from lead poisoning

The study was carried out by Occupational Knowledge (OK) International in partnership with Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Lead poisoning in Nigeria was first discovered in Zamfara State by Medecins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in 2010.

The plague, which was caused by lead pollution generated from processing lead-rich rock ores for gold, claimed the lives of 400 to 500 children within the state.

To pave a way for treatment, eight villages were remediated.

About five years after the Zamfara poisoning, the situation reoccurred in Niger State in 2015. The outbreak was also caused by unsafe mining practices. More than 2500 community members were exposed to the plaque and about 30 children died.

According to a statement by Occupational Knowledge (OK) International on Wednesday, the study authors concluded that a two-year effort to introduce safer mining practices was effective at preventing deaths and reducing lead poisoning in highly exposed villages.

OK International is a U.S. based NGO that works to build capacity in developing countries to identify, monitor, and mitigate environmental and occupational exposures to hazardous materials in order to protect public health and the environment.

“Our pilot project demonstrated that low-cost dust control measures were effective at reducing average airborne lead exposures by 95 percent,”
the Executive Director of the NGO,

Perry Gottesfeld, said.
“The safer mining project took place in the Shakira community in Niger State where high levels of lead are naturally present in the gold ore. The primary objective was to reduce lead exposures among artisanal small-scale miners and minimise take home exposures.

“We worked cooperatively with miners to provide them with the information and tools to reduce their exposures to lead and silica dust. Together we showed that these efforts minimized contamination and helped save lives,” Mr Gottesfeld said.

He said the organisation demonstrated the effectiveness of reducing airborne lead levels by working with miners to convert dry operations to wet methods.

“Water spray misting was proven to be highly effective while minimising water consumption. In addition to significant reductions in airborne lead, the authors reported that these control measures reduced the smaller respirable silica dust by 80 percent,” he said.

Mr Gottesfeld noted that the miners were motivated to take measures to reduce hazardous lead exposures and invested their own time and money to implement these protective measures.

In his remarks, the Head of Mission in Nigeria for Doctors Without Borders, Philip Aruna, said “OK International has exceeded expectations in bringing an entire community together to prevent severe lead poisoning and by demonstrating significant reductions in lead exposures among miners.”

According to the statement, in Nigeria and in most other African countries, there are no occupational limits for exposure for lead or silica dust.

“Silica dust causes silicosis, lung cancer and is a significant risk factor for tuberculosis (TB). Lead causes severe neurological deficits and death among children in these communities, but even at low exposure levels is responsible for 674,000 deaths each year primarily due to cardiovascular disease.

“There are an estimated 40 million informal small-scale miners working in at least 70 countries around the world. Although some programs have attempted to reduce mercury exposures in these communities, this is the first such intervention to demonstrate reductions in lead and silica dust exposures. The authors of the published article note that in mining communities lead and silica hazards pose a far greater risk to human health than the use of mercury.”

The Medical Coordinator for Nigeria with Doctors Without Borders and an author on the paper, Adolphe Fotso, said this effort was an extraordinary success in reducing these significant health risks and protecting children from lead poisoning.

In addition to introducing wet methods, OK International focused on training miners to implement simple measures including handwashing, showering, setting up separate eating areas, and changing out of work clothing before going home at the end of the day.

The study estimated that the overall cost for introducing these measures in this community was approximately $5,000 USD.

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