Background: During May-June 2010, a childhood lead poisoning outbreak related to gold ore processing was confirmed in two villages in Zamfara State, Nigeria. During June-September of that year, villages with suspected or confirmed childhood lead poisoning continued to be identified in Zamfara State.
Objectives: We investigated the extent of childhood lead poisoning [≥ 1 child with a blood lead level (BLL) ≥ 10 µg/dL] and lead contamination (≥ 1 soil/dust sample with a lead level > 400 parts per million) among villages in Zamfara State and identified villages that should be prioritized for urgent interventions.
Methods: We used chain-referral sampling to identify villages of interest, defined as villages suspected of participation in gold ore processing during the previous 12 months. We interviewed villagers, determined BLLs among children < 5 years of age, and analyzed soil/dust from public areas and homes for lead.
Results: We identified 131 villages of interest and visited 74 (56%) villages in three local government areas. Fifty-four (77%) of 70 villages that completed the survey reported gold ore processing. Ore-processing villages were more likely to have ≥ 1 child < 5 years of age with lead poisoning (68% vs. 50%, p = 0.17) or death following convulsions (74% vs. 44%, p = 0.02). Soil/dust contamination and BLL ≥ 45 µg/dL were identified in ore-processing villages only [50% (p < 0.001) and 15% (p = 0.22), respectively]. The odds of childhood lead poisoning or lead contamination was 3.5 times as high in ore-processing villages than the other villages (95% confidence interval: 1.1, 11.3).
Conclusion: Childhood lead poisoning and lead contamination were widespread in surveyed areas, particularly among villages that had processed ore recently. Urgent interventions are required to reduce lead exposure, morbidity, and mortality in affected communities.