EARTH: Gold, Lead and Death in Nigeria

First Posted: Feb 21, 2012 01:20 PM EST

Throughout the Zamfara region in northwestern Nigeria, children are dying at an alarming rate. What exactly could be causing such an epidemic? The answer lies in the unique geology.

Lead-rich gold ores permeate the area, and mining them provides critical income for many families in need. Families get by on small-scale artisanal level mining, which, in turn, exposes them to lead poisoning. With the rising value of gold, villagers must weigh the socioeconomic impacts against the lethal health repercussions.

How will heavy metal poisoning impact future generations in Nigeria? Is there a way to safely mine this unique ore so that denizens can continue to make a living? What about the geology makes this particular deposit so dangerous? Read the rest of the story online at

Read this story and more in the March issue of EARTH Magazine, available online now at Discover what role mercury played in the Permian extinction; "core the air" as scientists test today's atmosphere to reveal modern climate secrets; and, explore the asteroid Vesta all in this month's issue of EARTH.

Source: American Geological Institute

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