Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari has called on miners to desist from using household implements for gold processing in order to prevent lead poisoning, adding that mining activities must be restricted to mining sites.
The minister who made the call in Abuja on Tuesday, at the 2nd International Conference on Lead Poisoning with Special Focus on Prevention said the participation of children in gold processing is unlawful and counter-productive as it can lead to poisoning and death.
He said the conference therefore aims to proffer preventive governance framework for lead poisoning in ASM gold mining, noting that treatment and environmental remediation are very expensive and unsustainable.
According to the minister, behavioural change is key to preventing further contamination with lead, adding that ‘it is also necessary to stop processing gold ore in residential areas.’
Discussing unsafe processing techniques that can lead to poisoning and death, the minister said: ‘Artisanal miners use rudimentary tools for excavating gold-bearing gravels and for dry crushing and grinding them, sometimes in their homes.
‘The ground gold ore is thereafter washed in ponds shared by both humans and animals to recover the gold, resulting in pollution of the water with lead bearing waste materials which animals and humans later use.
He explained that investigation of the Zamfara and Niger lead poisoning incidences showed that they were caused by widespread lead contamination of residential areas, with the lead poisoning highest amongst children. He therefore warned miners and mining communities to change their methods in order to stay alive and health.
While commending MSF, referring to the humanitarian medical organisation as ‘Nigeria’s dependable partners,’ Bwari pledged the commitment of the administration to ending any further recontamination with lead, adding that some strategies are in place to end the scourge.
‘We encourage the establishment of gold processing zones away from residential areas while also increasing the capacity of artisanal miners to use safer mining and processing methods, such as the borax and iGOLI methods.
‘We have continued to pursue with vigour our formalisation exercise that groups artisanal miners into licenced cooperatives and supports them with working tools and training on the use of safer mining and processing methods.
‘Government also ensured continuous monitoring of ASM Gold mining activities for the purpose of monitoring lead and other heavy metals level in land, air and water to prevent lead and other heavy metal contamination of the environment.
‘We also embarked on enlightenment campaign on the use of safer mining and processing methods such as wet crushing and grinding, adopting the use of separate clothes for work and leaving them at the place of work after closing and the need to use personal protective equipment such as nose masks to reduce dust intake.
The minister acknowledged the ‘tremendous support’ received from the federal government, especially from the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during the lead poison outbreak in Niger State.’ He recalled how Osinbajo, who was Acting President at the time, recognised the emergency and dispensed with protocol to ensure we got express approval for monies we needed for remediation.’
He explained that as a result of the Shakira incident, government constituted an inter-ministerial committee comprising Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Federal Ministry of Health, and Federal Ministry of Environment amongst others, to tackle the outbreaks in partnership with other key actors including the MSF, Zamfara and Niger State Governments, Local Government Councils of affected areas, and Leadership of host communities.
He expressed concern that ‘there will always be people willing to defy the dangers of mining gold using unsafe practices’ and warned that no matter the scope of remediation and treatment, there will always be some recontamination’ adding that some children may not respond to treatment.
He recalled that lead poisoning associated with artisanal gold mining was first formally reported in Yargalma village in Bukkuyum Local Government Area of Zamfara State in 2010 noted that ‘within six months, more than 400 children were killed in the outbreak.’
Discussing the efforts made to arrest the situation, the minister said ‘Quick remediation of the contaminated areas was accomplished, involving the removal of the contaminated topsoil to be replaced with clean topsoil.
‘The exhumed topsoil was thereafter dumped in pits and covered up. This was followed up with MSF treatment of poisoned persons, mostly crawling children, with the oral chelating agent 2, and other drugs.
Stressing the need to adhere strictly to safe gold processing methods, he said: ‘Five years after massive environmental remediation work was carried out in eight villages in Zamfara between 2010 and 2013, despite the use of cutting edge treatments for 5000 children in Zamfara State, and despite hosting the first International Conference on Lead Poisoning in Nigeria in May 2012, another severe lead poisoning outbreak killed 30 children in 2 villages in Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State.