Lead poisoning has killed about 30 children in northern Nigeria over the past week, authorities said. Another 700 in a cut-off village near the town of Anka have been treated for the effects of lead poisoning, All Africa news service said on Monday.
Anka Local Government, Alhaji Sani Mohammed Lawal said the council was overseeing the feeding of children and their mothers at the Anka General Hospital as well as the supply of drugs.
Already this year scores of people have died in the north west African country’s Zamfara state, poisoned by lead-contaminated waste from illegal gold mining.
Since June, at least 160 people have died in the region from lead poisoning, which only came to light when visiting doctors realised unusually large numbers of children in the region were dying. Scientists traced the source of the poisoning to soil contaminated with lead dumped by miners. Workers spent weeks in June trying to decontaminate several villages, by scraping away topsoil.
But experts fear more people may die still from the same contamination. There are worries that the rains may have washed the poison back into wells and other water sources.
Deadly amounts of lead were released by villagers illegally trying to extract ore from the goldmines, Agence France Presse news service said. They would then take the crushed rock home, extract the gold and dump the soil containing lead deposits which children would play with.
The alarm was raised when medics carrying out Nigeria’s yearly vaccinations programme, realised that in several villages there were virtually no children. Residents said the children had died of malaria and it was only when health workers give the villagers blood tests, that the high concentrations of lead were discovered.
The state has just hired a Chinese company to mine gold in the area, the BBC reported. But villagers had also tried to dig for the precious metal themselves, which is against the law in Nigeria.
Children suffer poisoning worse than adults because their small size makes them more vulnerable to the effects. Children in particular may start having seizures, become delirious and fall in to a coma. The symptoms of lead poisoning include tiredness, stomach pain, vomiting, constipation and headaches.
Gold deposits in the area along the Niger border have been known about for a long time. But it wasn't until gold prices soared in recent years that Nigerian villagers began heading into the bush to search for it.