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WHO: 850,690 Nigerians at risk of mercury poisoning

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WHO: 850,690 Nigerians at risk of mercury poisoning
  • Niger, Osun, Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, 7 other states affected

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the alarm that 850,690 persons in 12 states in Nigeria have been exposed to mercury poisoning, as a result of Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) activities. The National Consultant, Public Health and Environment of WHO, Dr. Edwin Edeh, who made this known at a one-day health sensitization programme to flag-off field assessments of ASGM activities in the country, noted that ASGM was the main source of the largest release of mercury emissions around the world, and a key source of income generation. The assessment would be used by the country to develop a National Action Plan (NAP), which clearly identifies public health implications of the mining activities in gold mining communities and the country at large, as well as develop strategies for actions needed to reduce the public health impact. According to Edeh, the affected states are: Niger, Osun, Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Kwara, Borno, Jigawa, Yobe and the Federal Capital Territory.

“In Nigeria, not less than 850,690 people are at risk of mercury poisoning. Mercury, which is widely used to extract gold in ASGM, is a lethal chemical,” he said. Mr. Fatai Olarenwaju from the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) explained that one important component of the NAP would be to empower local communities for action.

“There is a need to sensitize mining communities in order to increase their awareness and enable them to take local action on minimizing the effects of mercury on human health,” he said. WHO Officer in Charge (OiC), Dr. Clement Peter, disclosed that in addition to the assessment in two states, the organisation was supporting the FMOH to build capacities of health workers on management of mercury poisoning and on environmental health activities that need to be periodically carried out to monitor and reduce health risks of ASGM. “WHO will continue in its role to provide technical guidance to Nigeria on safe management of chemicals of public health importance and strengthening the capacity of FMOH in the implementation of the provisions of Minimata Conventions on Mercury,” Peter said. Khadija Balama, one of the women in Niger State, complained that the water in the community was contaminated with strange substances. “We’ve noticed the water has some strange particles and we have reported to the authorities.

“The taste of our water has drastically changed, the colour seems darker and the texture is thicker than usual. We are scared that this water can cause diseases and affect our livestock if care is not taken,” she said. The WHO experts explained that the particles described by the women to be in the water were residues of mercury, popularly used in mining activities in Shiroro Local Government Area – a very popular ASGM town in Niger State. According to them, exposure to mercury poses great danger to human health, including toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, including sensitive organs such as the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes and may pose serious health threats to unborn babies and children under the age of five.

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