Blacksmith Institute representatives went to Washington, D.C. November 30th to brief federal officials and congressional staff on the ongoing case of severe lead poisoning in northern Nigeria and provide an update on the broader context of toxins in low- and middle-income countries.

Participants gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building's Ways and Means Committee Room included representatives from the Department of State, USAID, Office of Foreign Disaster Relief as well as congressional staff from the offices of House Representatives Nita Lowey (D-New York) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon).

The presentation by Blacksmith CEO Richard Fuller, joined by Program Director Meredith Block, included strong visual illustration of the unprecedented lead poisoning epidemic in the villages of Zamfara, Nigeria, where every man, woman, and child has tested positive for lead poisoning above acceptable standards with irreversible health damage. To date, 400 children have died in the villages--30 to 43 percent of whom were under five years of age. An estimated 2,400 children require hospitalization.

Lead exposure is the number one toxic threat to children worldwide, Blacksmith board member, Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor of pediatrics and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at New York's Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, told the gathering. Physiologically, children are at the greatest risk because they are still developing and of smaller size--and the world is not paying attention, he emphasized.

Due to artisanal gold mining, as many as 30 villages with 4,000 children under five have been affected in this poor, remote, and traditional part of Nigeria, lacking energy, water, and medical resources. To date Blacksmith and its partners have remediated five villages and 300 compounds, hiring and training nearly 400 local people to undertake the work.

Discussion following the briefing centered on efforts to stop the pollution and further clean ups planned. Blacksmith's technical experts believe that another 30-plus villages are involved and an additional $1.4 million is needed.


Blacksmith Institute President, Richard Fuller


Karti Sandilya, Blacksmith Senior Advisor and former US Resident Director, Asian Development Bank, and Blacksmith Program Director Meredith H. Block, following the DC briefing.