More than 160 die from lead poisoning

More than 160 poor villagers from Nigeria's north died from lead poisoning while trying to leach gold from rock deposits, sparking evacuations as health officials try to come to grips with a crisis six months in the making, authorities said Friday.

Dr. Henry Akpan, Nigeria's chief epidemiologist, told the Associated Press that 100 of the dead were children from five villages in Zamfara state. Akpan said the children either played near the leaching process or took part in it, swallowing the lead by putting their hands in their mouths or breathing it in.

Akpan said federal and state authorities, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were taking part in the quarantine and clean-up efforts in the state. About 300 others in the area have fallen ill from lead poisoning since the illegal mining began in January, he said.

Akpan said authorities also had begun evacuating people from the contaminated areas.

"What is happening now is the extent of the growth of illegal mining," the doctor said. "It is what they do in the processes that causes the lead poisoning."

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