“Unprecedented” Emergency in Nigeria

As you might have noticed, there has not been a new post lately on The Pollution Blog.  Part of the reason is that I have been busy with the recent and ongoing lead poisoning emergency in Nigeria.

This is a crisis beyond words. News reports have called the tragedy “unprecedented.” Over 150 children have died  – about 70 reportedly from one village alone – one-third of that village’s child population.  More deaths are likely.

At the request of the Nigerian authorities, Blacksmith is leading the urgent cleanup. We are working with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders, and local authorities to avert a catastrophe — we are racing against time to do as much as they can before the rains arrive in July, making cleanup even more difficult in this remote, rural region.

Blacksmith experts have been on the ground for the past few weeks.  We have trained hundreds of local villagers to do cleanup.  The work is a tough, slow process – we have been removing contaminated soil by hand using hoes and shovels.  We have also been using large earth moving equipment to dig protected landfills.  Currently we are removing toxic lead from houses and compounds in just two of the worst affected villages.  At least five more villages await help but may not receive it because of a lack of funds.

Because work needs to be done so quickly, the situation is desperate.  Our team on the ground needs reinforcements. Our emergency funds are running low and we fear cleanup work will soon have to stop.  We have raised about $20,000 needed for immediate, emergency cleanup but another $30,000 is needed.

Word about this tragedy has already reached the world over the last week.  We have spoken with CNN, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press, Public Radio International and a host of other news organizations about what is happening on the ground. (Read the reports in our special alert about the emergency in Nigeria). We will post updates as we get them on Facebook and Twitter.

Lead poisoning is one of the world’s worst pollution problems.  Last year, Blacksmith had to do emergency cleanup in Senegal when 18 children died of lead poisoning (in that case it was from the improper recycling of used car batteries, not the processing of lead ore for gold in Nigeria).  Whatever the source, lead is a killer that we encounter over and over again in the developing world.  In poor communities, where there are few alternatives to making a living wage, the lure of gold is understandable.  The community in Nigeria is not to blame for the deadly contamination. Instead, they must be offered alternatives or be taught how to extract gold in a way that is safe for all, especially their children. In Nigeria, processing work has been moved away from homes.  This is a good start. Now cleanup must continue, and then education.

Learn how you can help and spread the word.

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