Poison: UN experts collect soil, water samples in Zamfara

THE PUNCH Newspaper

A team of experts from the United Nations has now completed collecting dozens of soil and water samples in Zamfara State, following cases of lead poisoning reported in the area recently, Empowered Newswire reports.

A statement released by the UN stated that the ‘acute lead poisoning’ in the area was due to backyard gold digging, saying that the development led to hundreds of children becoming ill while many died earlier this year.

The release said the five-member team from the UN Environment Programme, UNEP and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs were expected to work in their mobile laboratory to analyse the samples and present preliminary findings to local and federal government officials by Monday (yesterday).

According to the release, “A spike in lead-related illnesses and deaths emerged at the beginning this year in two districts of Zamfara State. Investigations revealed that the cause was the attempt of many locals to extract gold from lead-contaminated soils in and around their houses and compounds. The soil, well water, and pond water samples should help determine the level of lead pollution in five villages.”

In a particular case of mine processing site in the village of Bagega, with some 8,000 inhabitants, the UN statement said air mercury levels of 5,000 nanogrammes per cubic metre were registered, a hundred times the maximum recommended level of 50.

Mercury, which is used in the gold extraction processes, affects the nervous and digestive systems when inhaled.

The release added that a final report would be available by October, feeding into a larger process to address the crisis involving a variety of actors, including state and federal authorities, the UN World Health Organisations, and UNICEF, alongside other non-governmental organisations, who have launched a major effort to remove lead and mercury-contaminated soil and water from the villages.

Meanwhile, a polio immunisation campaign targeting 5.6 million children was also launched in Angola by the UN over the weekend as the WHO warned that the southern African country was quickly becoming the greatest threat to continent-wide eradication efforts, including Nigeria.

Only three African countries have recorded cases of the highly infectious and potentially lethal disease in the past four months – Nigeria, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the latter infected from across the Angolan boarder, WHO spokesman Rod Curtis told reporters in Geneva.

Areas in Angola that have previously been polio-free have been re-infected this year from an expanding outbreak, he said.

Over the next three days and again at the end of the month, WHO, UNICEF and Rotary International will be supporting tens of thousands of volunteers, health workers, parents, communities and traditional leaders as they go from house to house and village to village to ensure that every child under the age of 5 is reached with oral polio vaccine.


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