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A Chat With Jason Beaubien About Nigerian Gold

A young boy works at an illegal gold mine in Dareta, Nigeria.
David Gilkey
A young boy works at an illegal gold mine in Dareta, Nigeria.

NPR's global health correspondent Jason Beaubien just got back from northern Nigeria, where he's been reporting on what health officials say may be the worst case of lead poisoning in recent history.

We hosted a live chat with Beaubien Thursday — hashtag #NigeriaGold. Catch highlights of the conversation below.

Beaubien learned that hundreds of children have already died and thousands more have suffered severe neurological damage. They can no longer walk, talk or feed themselves.

The poisoning comes from gold mining, which has boomed over the past few years as the price of gold has climbed.

Gold in this region is mingled with lead, and miners use primitive tools, including auto parts and metal clubs, to extract the tiny nuggets. The mining methods release lead into the air and soil. Children consume contaminated material, and the lead is absorbed into their blood.

Health workers have seen lead levels in children's blood at 30 times the amount considered dangerous. And, they still aren't sure how many children have been harmed.

Reporting on the problems was a challenging assignment. Even just getting to the remote mines was a logistical nightmare involving two failed attempts at flying and a four-wheel-drive Toyota Land Cruiser trapped in Nigerian mud.



Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD, is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. For nearly a decade, she has been reporting for the radio and the web for NPR's global health outlet, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, cross-cultural parenting, and women and children's health.
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  • In northern Nigeria, some miners use crude methods to extract raw gold ore — a practice fueled by rising gold prices. But the gold here is embedded in lead, and the dust kicked up by this dirty and illegal mining has killed hundreds of children and sickened thousands more. Experts say this may be the worst case of lead poisoning in recent history.
  • Gold ore mined in northern Nigeria is mixed with lead. When the ore is dug up, crushed and processed, the lead escapes into the air and settles on the ground. Children are being poisoned when they swallow lead-contaminated dust and dirt.