A pilot program to reduce lead poisoning in Nigerian gold mining communities has brought significant improvements to an area where hundreds of children have died from lead poisoning, according to a new study published this week.
The study authors concluded that a two-year effort to introduce safer mining practices was effective in preventing deaths and reducing lead poisoning in highly exposed communities.
Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director of Occupational Knowledge International (OK International), whose organisation partnered with Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières in this effort, said the pilot project demonstrated that low-cost dust control measures were effective at reducing average airborne lead exposures by 95 per cent.
The project took place in the Shakira community in Niger State (Central Nigeria) where high levels of lead are naturally present in the gold ore, with the primary objective to reduce lead exposures among artisanal small-scale miners and minimise take-home exposures.
“We worked cooperatively with miners to provide them with the information and tools to reduce their exposures to lead and silica dust. Together we showed that these efforts minimised contamination and helped save lives,” Gottesfeld explained.
The organisation reduced airborne lead levels by working with miners to convert dry operations into wet methods.
The technique of water spray misting proved to be a highly efficient method to achieve this, while maintaining minimal water consumption.
In addition to significant reductions in airborne lead, the authors also reported that these control measures reduced the smaller respirable silica dust by 80 per cent.
Philip Aruna, Head of Mission in Nigeria for Doctors Without Borders said that OK International exceeded expectations in bringing an entire community together to prevent severe lead poisoning and by demonstrating significant reductions in lead exposures among miners.
“Following our extensive outreach and training, these miners were motivated to take measures to reduce hazardous lead exposures and invested their own time and money to implement these protective measures,” he added.
The authors of the study noted that average lead exposures among ore processors before the implementation of safer practices were 19 times greater than the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible limit for lead.
In addition to introducing wet methods, OK International trained miners to implement simple measures including handwashing, showering, setting up separate eating areas and changing out of work clothing before going home at the end of the day.
Dr. Adolphe Fotso, Medical Coordinator for Nigeria with Doctors Without Borders and one of the paper’s authors, commented: “this effort was an extraordinary success in reducing these significant health risks and protecting children from lead poisoning”.
‘Reducing Lead and Silica Dust Exposures in Small-Scale Mining in Northern Nigeria’ can be found here.