2013 Conference of the International Medical Geology Association (25–29 August 2013)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


TIRIMA, Simba, BARTREM, Casey, VON LINDERN, Ian and VON BRAUN, Margrit, TerraGraphics International Foundation (TIFO), Mosco, ID 83844, simba.tirima@terragraphics.com

In 2010, in response to high metals prices worldwide, residents in Zamfara, Nigeria turned from low paying agricultural jobs to extracting gold from abandoned colonial lead mines. As a result, over 20,000 people were lead poisoned and nearly 500 children died - the largest lead poisoning outbreak in modern times. Several international organizations and Nigerian government officials collaborated in providing emergency medical and environmental responses. By July of 2013, 830 compounds in eight villages, housing 15,000 people had been remediated. Nearly 1600 children have received chelation treatment.

A perfect storm of events resulted in this unprecedented epidemic of lead poisoning. Zamfara suffered from desperate economic conditions and political instability. When the price of gold soared in 2008-09, local ore deposits, unusually high in lead, were exploited by primitive artisanal mining techniques. In keeping with local cultural restrictions, ores were brought into the home for processing by women and children, using hammers, flour mills, sluicing at local wells, and mercury amalgamation to recover gold. The health risk assessment concluded that 90% of the exposure resulted from children ingesting soil and dust, either at home or via contaminated food and water.

The remediation consisted of removing and landfilling contaminated soil and replacing it with uncontaminated soil. Local villagers were employed to remediate their homes with commonly available equipment. The techniques and health messaging from the cleanup are being integrated into safer artisanal mining and processing practices that allow the communities to continue to exploit the economic opportunity without poisoning their children. The greatest achievement may be the mobilization of the State and local governments, the Emirates, and the villagers to work together to resolve the environmental contamination problem. The cleanup involved 28 international advisors, 80 government professionals, and nearly 400 laborers. The workforce was 90% Nigerian, an intentional element of the remedial design. Federal, State and local governments are beginning to assume responsibility for blood lead testing and treatment.

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