Mining for gold

Artisan mining is common in Nigeria, where individual miners pan or dig for gems or precious metals.

Mined materialsFor example, in the northwestern state of Zamfara, gold mines are worked by artisan miners who dig for ore. However, when the ore is crushed to extract the gold, a dangerous dust is produced. It contains high levels of lead, which causes lead poisoning among children. Many have died when they haven’t received proper medical treatment.

The symptoms of lead poisoning include convulsions and loss of consciousness; long-term, it can cause kidney failure and brain damage.

Children don’t need to be involved in helping with the mining work. They are exposed when the rocks are crushed in their villages or when miners return to their homes covered in dust.

International organisations have been working with local government to clean up the lead contamination in villages. But even where sites have been declared safe, new mining practices need to be adopted if children are to remain healthy. However, one estimate puts the cost of setting up wet-milling or ore-crushing tanks (which minimize the dust) at around 4 million dollars.

While the price of gold remains high, people in this poor region of Nigeria will continue to see mining as their only way out of poverty, regardless of the risk to their children. The miners carry on because they have no alternative way to live.