Doctors treat lead-poisoned children in Nigeria

Last Updated: Saturday, August 3, 2013 - 17:09

Lagos: The Nigerian village that suffered one of the world`s worst recorded incidents of lead poisoning is now habitable and doctors can start treating more than 1,000 contaminated children, a doctor and a scientist from two international agencies said on Saturday.

For some, it already is too late to reverse serious neurological damage, said Dr Michelle Chouinard, Nigeria country director for Doctors Without Borders, told a news agency yesterday.

Some children are blind, others paralyzed and many will struggle at school with learning disabilities, she said.

Doctors Without Borders uncovered the scandal in 2010 but nothing was done until this year about the worst-affected village, Bagega, because the federal government did not provide a promised USD 3 million, the group said.

The poisoning caused by artisanal mining from a gold rush killed at least 400 children, yet villagers still say they would rather die of lead poisoning than poverty, environmental scientist Simba Tirima told the Associated Press yesterday.

Villagers make 10 times as much money mining as they do from farming in an area suffering erratic rainfall because of climate change, he said.

Managing five landfills with some 13,000 cubic meters (nearly 460,000 cubic feet) of highly contaminated soil, and teaching villagers how to mine safely are major challenges to prevent new contamination, he said.

"That`s a big, big worry. But I am joyful that for the kids who will be born in Bagega, we have at least removed one of the major strikes against them because they have so many strikes against them nutritional problems, diseases ..." said Tirima, who is the field operations director in Nigeria for TerraGraphics International Foundation.

The Moscow, Idaho-based foundation advised Nigeria`s northern Zamfara state government and oversaw the 5 ½-month cleanup, or remediation, of Bagega that ended two weeks ago.

There, people were exposed to mindboggling rates of lead contamination: Some residential soil with up to 35,000 parts per million of lead and the processing area with over 100,000 parts per million, Tirima said. The United States considers 400 parts per million safe for residential soil.

At the peak of the gold rush, Tirima said, more than 1,000 itinerant miners and followers were camped around the village deep in the countryside, beyond the reach of paved roads and electricity and quite cut off in the rainy season when dirt roads become impassable.

Despite its remote location, the booming economy attracted people from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to Bagega, which also drew many locals as a regional commercial center with a primary and high school, a hospital and weekly market.

In addition, cattle herders and nomads came here to water their animals at a reservoir so dangerously contaminated it killed goats and cows.

AP

First Published: Saturday, August 3, 2013 - 17:09
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