Prevalence and Risk Factors of Elevated Blood Lead in Children in Gold Ore Processing Communities, Zamfara, Nigeria, 2012
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Prevalence and Risk Factors of Elevated Blood Lead in Children in Gold Ore Processing Communities, Zamfara, Nigeria, 2012

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  • Alternative Title:
    J Health Pollut
  • Description:

    In March 2010, Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders detected an outbreak of acute lead poisoning in Zamfara State, northwestern Nigeria, linked to low-technology gold ore processing. The outbreak killed more than 400 children ≤5 years of age in the first half of 2010 and has left more than 2,000 children with permanent disabilities.


    The aims of this study were to estimate the statewide prevalence of children ≤5 years old with elevated blood lead levels (BLLs) in gold ore processing and non-ore-processing communities, and to identify factors associated with elevated blood lead levels in children.


    A representative, population-based study of ore processing and non-ore-processing villages was conducted throughout Zamfara in 2012. Blood samples from children, outdoor soil samples, indoor dust samples, and survey data on ore processing activities and other lead sources were collected from 383 children ≤5 years old in 383 family compounds across 56 villages.


    17.2% of compounds reported that at least one member had processed ore in the preceding 12 months (95% confidence intervals (CI): 9.7, 24.7). The prevalence of BLLs ≥10 µg/dL in children ≤5 years old was 38.2% (95% CI: 26.5, 51.4) in compounds with members who processed ore and 22.3% (95% CI: 17.8, 27.7) in compounds where no one processed ore. Ore processing activities were associated with higher lead concentrations in soil, dust, and blood samples. Other factors associated with elevated BLL were a child’s age and sex, breastfeeding, drinking water from a piped tap, and exposure to eye cosmetics.


    Childhood lead poisoning is widespread in Zamfara State in both ore processing and non-ore-processing settings, although it is more prevalent in ore processing areas. Although most children’s BLLs were below the recommended level for chelation therapy, environmental remediation and use of safer ore processing practices are needed to prevent further exposures.

    Patient consent


    Ethics approval

    The study protocol was approved by the US Centers for Disease Control Institutional Review Board-A and the National Health Research Ethics Committee of Nigeria.

    Competing Interests

    The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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