Environmental health in emergencies

Nigeria: Mass lead poisoning from mining activities, Zamfara State

A major outbreak of lead toxicity has been observed in northern Nigeria related to the processing of lead rich ore for the extraction of gold. The Zamfara State Ministry of Health reported that there was an ongoing pattern of childhood death and illness occurring in at least six villages in the two Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Bukkuyum and Anka. At the request of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, the United States Centers for Disease Control (US CDC) deployed a response team to assist investigating this outbreak. The team worked with national authorities, as well as with the country office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Nigerian authorities have requested further technical and financial assistance from WHO to contain the current outbreak and prevent similar outbreaks in the future.

Upon this request, a WHO team has been deployed into the field consisting of two epidemiologists, a clinical toxicologist, an environmental health expert, and a laboratory specialist.

The aim of the mission is to support the Nigerian authorities with:

  • the ongoing emergency response activities in affected villages, including with regards to case-finding, case management, environmental investigations, environmental remediation, awareness raising, health promotion, and communication;
  • the evaluation of the extent of the problem of lead exposure from mining at State and Federal level; and
  • the development of recommendations for a longer term strategy aimed at putting in place institutional capacities that would enable Nigeria to anticipate and address health development impacts/issues associated with mining and natural resource development activities going forward.


June 2010: WHO deploys international team to further assist Nigerian authorities at local, state and national level.

May - June 2010: WHO country team forms part of CDC field mission to investigate the disease outbreak in Yargalma and Dareta.

March - April 2010: Disease outbreak identified by Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF). High levels of lead found in blood of cases.