Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said following the outbreak of lead poisoning which occurred in Zamfara State in 2010, with about 500 casualties, mainly children and another episode in Niger State, in April 2015, with 30 fatalities, about 7,200 children have so far been treated for remediation of lead poisoning.
This was even as he has said that it is possible to have artisanal activities and enjoy the wealth there from, if proper preventive measures are put in place and the right equipment provided.
Osinbajo disclosed this, in Abuja, at the Second International Conference on Lead Poisoning Associated with Artisanal Gold mining in Nigeria with special focus on prevention, with the theme: Safer mining, clean environment, healthy environment healthy communities.
He lamented that Gold mining was currently dominated by artisanal miners using rudimentary mining methods and crude processing techniques.
According to him, “The obvious consequence is the exposure of the miners, the environment and local communities to serious danger.
“In areas where gold contains concentration of heavy metals like lead, exposure to the dust released from these metals as a result of the crude processing techniques, leads to serious health consequences not just on the persons directly involved in the mining but also for all the neighboring areas and communities. Children of course are most at risk of death and disability.
“Many will recall the outbreak of lead poisoning that occurred in Zamfara State and a lot of which have been repeated today. In 2010, as a result of the activities of illegal gold miners residential compounds and village squares, studies carried out revealed that 17,000 people were affected and estimated 400 to 500 children lost their lives due to acute lead poisoning.
“The Federal Government and development partners helped to bring that ugly incident under control.
“Regrettably five years after the Zamfara outbreak, another outbreak of severe lead poisoning was reported on April 2015 in two villages in Niger State.
“This outbreak was specifically environmental lead contamination from artisanal gold mining activities and nearly 30 children died from severe lead toxicity and many more were poisoned.
“To date, nearly 7,200 children in Niger and Zamfara states have received treatment, I’m informed this is the highest number of children with lead poisoning reported anywhere.
“Unfortunately treatment does not reverse the effect of lead poisoning, it only accelerates the rate at which the body expels the lead in other to prevent further damage or death.
“So, for thousands of children who did not die of lead poisoning in Zamfara and Niger, they therefore have to live with cognitive and other disabilities.
“Many of these children may never attain the full potential and become productive citizens,” he said.
Osinbajo regretted that efforts to prevent recurrence of the ugly incident has not been adequate.
He said, “We must say by admitting that the current effort to tackle lead poisoning and artisanal gold mining have not been adequate.
“What better evidence do we have for that than the fact that the Niger state outbreak happened five years after we thought we had contained that problem.
“Indication of recontamination in previously remediated sites in Zamfara, compelled us to rethink and refocus our commitment and strategy to protecting our vulnerable children and communities at large.
“As Nigeria traverse the road to share mining prosperity, we must ensure that we do it in a way that will not harm our health or our environment.
“Those who say the option is death by poisoning rather than poverty, offer a syndical false choice. Artisanal mining and the life to enjoy the wealth from it is possible, if we put in place the proper preventive measures and provide the right equipment.
“No country should have to pay for its economic prosperity and development with the lives and well being of its people.
“I am confident that this conference will produce federally coordinated prevention plan that leverages on all the lessons learnt so far and bring federal, state, local authorities as well as the civil society and the corporate into alignment.
“We must avoid working side by side and expect to solve the problems especially because these problems cuts across all sectors and disciplines.
“I strongly that a carefully thought and a comprehensive national plan that focuses on the population and communities most vulnerable to lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining will yield the desired result,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, has disclosed that his administration is set to establish a mining city that will include a processing center, on site laboratory, trade and investment center, training center and mining supply store.
The city will also be equipped to carry out exploratory services that will include geophysics services, geochemical sampling, resource estimation, reserve calculations, data interpretation and target generation
The Niger State Mining City will also have a data room on the mineral deposits in the State, ready market for processed minerals and it will promote safer mining methods in the mineral sector.
Niger State in April 2015, suffered severe lead poisoning outbreak in Unguwan Kawo and Unguwan Magiro of Shikira community in Rafi Local Government, which affected pregnant women and children because of their vulnerability.
Bello said his administration has been working with partners to ensure there is no recurrence of such ugly tide, adding “As a state richly endowed with an array of solid mineral deposits, we are aware of an exponentially increased risked associated with artisanal mining and processing of mineral resources in the state, therefore we will be delighted to share our experiences and learn new lesson in this conference.”
“In addition, our plan to establish a mining city within the state is near completion, it will be the first of its kind in Nigeria. The city will be a comprehensive turn-key solution that will include a processing center, on site laboratory, trade and investment center, training center and mining supply store. The city will also be equipped to carry out exploratory services that will include geophysics services, geochemical sampling, resource estimation, reserve calculations, data interpretation and target generation. The Niger State Mining City will also have a data room on the mineral deposits in the State, ready market for processed minerals and it will promote safer mining methods in the mineral sector.”
Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bwari, said a formalization exercise that groups artisanal miners into licensed cooperatives and supports them with working tools and training on the use of safer mining and processing methods is being pursued with vigour.
Bwari also said the government is determined to encourage the establishment of gold processing zones away from residential areas, while also increasing the capacity of artisanal miners to use safer mining and processing methods, such as the borax and iGOLI methods.
“We have ensured the continuous momentum motoring of ASM Gold mining activities for the purpose of monitoring lead and other heavy metals level in land, air and water to prevent lead and other heavy metal contamination of the environment.
Also speaking Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, called on relevant stakeholders to leverage on the existing National Committee on Chemicals Management (NCCM) by integrating all their plan into the existing structure to further strengthen the national institutional framework for sound management of chemicals.
Jibril, who was represented by Director, Pollution Control and Environmental Health, Charles Okeya, reiterated the ministry’s effort for continued support of all actions aimed at preventing lead and other heavy metals contamination of the environment and associated health risks.
Participants are drawn from local and International experts with diverse areas of specialization to contribute to finding relevant solutions to the multi-sectoral nature of lead poisoning in Nigeria.