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Children killed by lead poisoning in Nigeria

More than 100 children are suffering serious lead poisoning in northern Nigeria. Some young children have been found to have more than 10 times the amount of lead in their blood than needed to damage brain development. And residential parts of state of Zamfara were found to contain lead concentrations 250 times higher than the US and French safe limit. Nigeria’s Ministry of Health has also logged a rise in the number of the deaths and illnesses of children in the villages of Bukkuyum and Anka.

The poisoning outbreak, first discovered late last month, has been put down the lead-rich ore used to extract gold. Some families are believed to have taken crushed rock ore from nearby goldmines into their homes. In their attempts to extract gold, deadly amounts of lead were released. It is thought that soil containing lead deposits was dumped in water sources and in places where children played, according to the BBC.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday said it had set up an investigation team of child health and disease specialists, to try and stem the problem and prevent it happening again. In the northern villages of Abare and Tungar-guru, a random sample of 56 children found that 90 per cent had lead poisoning and most needed urgent medical treatment. The villages have recently seen high death rates among young children and many cases of children getting convulsions.

More than 2,000 people in the area need chelation therapy to clean the lead from their systems, the agency estimates and the state Ministry of Health is now worried the poisoning has also affected other villages.Children, homes and villages need to be de contaminated to prevent more people dying to prevent long term brain damage, urges the WHO. And for the cleansing treatment to work properly, children will not be allowed back into their homes until the houses have been cleaned, it said. Zamfara State had recently employed a Chinese company to mine gold in the area, adds our correspondent. But villagers had also attempted to capitalise by digging for the precious metal themselves - an illegal activity in Nigeria.Some fear the contamination could spread during the rainy season which has just begun, if heavy rains wash the lead into new areas.

 The poisoning affects all of the population exposed to the dust caused by the crushing of the rocks, and its subsequent leaching into water wells and soil. However, children younger than five years old are most vulnerable to the risks of lead poisoning due to low body weight, and because they are at crucial stage of growth and brain development. Lead poisoning can cause a loss of appetite, anaemia, weakness, and renal damage. More serious consequences are the loss of consciousness, convulsions, and, eventually, death.

Hayley attribution