Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Massive Childhood Lead Poisoning: The Price of Nigerian Gold

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Massive Childhood Lead Poisoning: The Price of Nigerian Gold

Article excerpt

Childhood lead poisoning on a scale unheard of for decades has been detected in rural northwestern Nigeria [EHP 120(4):601-607; Dooyema et al.]. The culprit: lead in gold ore processed using artisanal techniques. Chelation therapy for hundreds of children, soil replacement, and an education campaign to discourage processing ore inside homes may now have radically reduced child mortality in the hardest-hit villages, but the long-term effect of lead poisoning on the surviving children remains to be seen.

The outbreak surfaced in the spring of 2010 when health professionals noticed abnormally high rates of child illness and death among young children in 4 villages of Zamfara State. Blood tests on 8 children returned blood lead levels (BLLs) of 168-370 mg/dL, at least 16 times the level of concern set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Nigerian authorities quickly assembled an international team to identify the source of the exposure and to respond, focusing on the 2 worst-affected villages.

Blood samples were collected from 59% of children under age 5. Of these, 97% had BLLs of at least 45 mg/dL, the threshold at which the CDC recommends chelation therapy. The BLLs of 85% surpassed the portable sampling devices' maximum detection limit of 65 mg/dL.

A survey of the villagers revealed that 25% of all children under age 5 had died in the previous year, most of them in the half-year before the study. …

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