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Gold Mining and Gangs in Nigeria

Gold Mining and Gangs in Nigeria

Gold mining, lead poisoning, and gangs in Zamfara, Northwestern Nigeria.


Lead toxicity and lead poisoning is a widespread problem for children of gold mining African families
Lead toxicity and lead poisoning is a widespread problem for children of gold mining African families.


Gold mining is an important source of income for villagers in Africa and is a dangerous job.

Gold mining is an important source of income for Africa’s Zamfara State villagers but mining are also dangerous. In 2010 one out of four children died due to lead poisoning also gangs are terrorizing and murdering gold miners.

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

In Zamfara, Northwestern Nigeria March 2010 Doctors without Borders discovered lead poisoning in over 1,000 children, there were an estimated 400 deaths. In each village, residents reported that one out of four of all the children in their communities had died in the past year. The team found unsafe levels of lead inside most of the homes, and water from the community wells had high levels of lead.

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal, but it was unusual to find such high levels of lead in these communities. Zamfara State is an agricultural region, and traditionally most villagers relied on farming to earn a living. However, the team learned that the area was also rich in many minerals, including gold. In recent years, the price of gold had risen and many villagers had started mining gold to earn more money.

The team observed the communities and saw many unsafe practices that would expose adults, children, and animals to harmful levels of lead. Since most villagers did not wear personal protective equipment while working with the gold ore, they would return home from the mines with lead dust on their clothing.  

Also, villagers would bring rocks inside their homes to extract the gold. These rocks contained lead, and when the gold was extracted, the lead dust would be released and spread throughout the house. Children often helped to grind the gold ore exposing them to high levels of lead dust.

Zamfara Northwestern Nigeria Map of Africa
Zamfara Northwestern Nigeria Map of Africa
Investigations of other villages in Zamfara State revealed that the lead poisoning was widespread. Thousands of children had dangerous levels of lead in their blood, and hundreds of children and animals had died throughout the region. It was the largest known outbreak of lead poisoning in history.

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

Mining is an important source of income for villagers and is dangerous. In July 2016 Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari sent special military units to fight armed gangs in Zamfara state. However, motorcycle-riding gunmen invaded a mining camp on November 6, 2016, outside Bindin village in Northern Zamfara state killing 36 gold miners. Hundreds of people have been killed in gold mining villages in the area over the past three years.

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