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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mining Africa's Health | Child Labor, Lead Poisoning and Accidents

Artisanal and Small-scale mining (ASM) refers to unlawful mining in Africa and other countries by miners using low technology or minimal mining machinery usually under dangerous conditions.


Workers in artisanal and small-scale mines dig, crush, grind and wash gems, gold, silver, copper, and mine coal and uranium.  In Africa, Artisanal and Small-scale mining or ASM’s has been linked to a decline of agriculture, conflicts and civil war, natural disasters, and economic crisis. Individuals rarely carry out artisanal mining; it is often a family activity where children of all ages engage in various types of mining activities where their parents work.

Workers in artisanal and small-scale mines dig, crush, grind and wash gems, gold, silver, copper, and mine coal and uranium.
Workers in artisanal
and small-scale mine photo by WHO
Poverty is the most important reason for the age 15-24 population to quit school and go to work. Children may enter mining work for lack of alternative options such as school or other employment opportunities.  

Youth unemployment for ages 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment is a 2013 average of  16.7 percent in Africa with South Africa having the most at 53.6 percent and Rwanda at .7 percent.


Since ASM’s are unlicensed, they are not regulated and health and safety issues, pollution to the environment, and child labor are chief concerns. Accidents and injuries from mining in unsafe tunnels, unprotected open pits and use of explosives lead to severe and fatal accidents. Chemical exposure and limited access to safety equipment are a day-to-day risk for poor miners.


The term artisanal and small-scale mining generally refers to mining practiced by individuals, groups or communities often illegally. ASM’s usually operate without legal mining titles in most African countries. ASM does not have a standard definition since local definitions vary from country to country. 

People are drawn to ASM’s in Africa for the potential of making a lot of money quickly similar to the California gold rush miners from 1848-1855 in the United States.

According to Doctors Without Borders /Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), there was a major crisis with lead poisoning due to ASM mining. The health impacts of ASM’s in Zamfara, Northwestern Nigeria March 2010 led MSF to detect lead poisoning in over 1,000 children. There were an estimated 400 deaths. 

Artisanal and Small-scale mining (ASM) refers to unauthorized mining activities carried out using low technology or with minimal machinery.
Artisanal and Small-scale mining photo by WHO
In the town of Bagega, Nigeria there were an estimated 1,500 children exposed to lead poisoning. In both cases the lead poisoning was due to extraction of mercury-gold amalgam with high lead content. Even if lead poisoning is treated, effective treatment is not available if people continue to live in contaminated areas and practice unsafe mining and ore processing activities. 

Children under five are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, and they are most at risk for severe illness and death. Children are closer to the ground often crawling and getting laden lead dust on their hands, which then ends up being ingested as they eat put their hands in their mouths.



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