Abuja: Lead poisoning that resulted from do-it-yourself illegal mining in northern Nigerian state of Zamfara has killed up to 400 children in the last six months, a French humanitarian group said on Tuesday.
El-Shafii Muhammad Ahmad, project director for France-based Medecines Sans Friontieres (MSF), said they`ve treated more than 490 children and the cleaning up of the environment has been hampered by the rainy season in seven villages involved.
The figure was corroborated by the World Health Organisation which said the number is highly conservative and could be more than that.
"Based on record of fatalities from lead poisoning, more than 400 children have died in the last six months," he said.
"The figure is not fictitious and we`re working with the United States Centre for Disease Control, UNICEF, MSF to bring the situation under control," Olaokun Soyinka, a spokesman for WHO, said.
He said enough efforts are currently being put in place to enlighten those living in area on the dangers of illegal mining and in collaboration with the government of the state, measures are being put in place to alleviate poverty which is the major cause of such activity.
"We have also applied for emergency funding, brought in lead analysers and excavated some layers of soil in areas affected," Soyinka said.
In June, a senior health official disclosed for the first time that 163 persons died due to inhalation of lead substances emanating from illegal mines.
Henry Akpan, the chief epidemiologist at the Oil rich African country`s Ministry of Health, said some residents of northern state of Zamfara became victims of poisoning after commencing some illegal mining operations in the area sometime in March.
According to the ministry, most of the victims were children mostly those who played in contaminated water flowing near the illegal mining sites.
"The children played near the leaching process or took part in it, swallowing the lead by inhaling it or putting their contaminated hands in their mouths," he said.
During a yearly immunization exercise carried out by health officials in the area, it was discovered that there were almost no children in the villages of Zamfara but the adults mistook their sudden death to Malaria which is a common ailment in the country.
Investigation by health officials revealed that an abnormally large amount of lead was circulating in the villagers` bodies which led to the discovery of why the death rate is high.