I heard a report on National Public Radio a couple of days ago that broke my heart, and made me realize that I can’t, and will not, ever buy new gold jewelry again.
The report came out of Nigeria, where the worst case of lead poisoning in recent history is taking place. In Northern Nigeria, 400 children have died and thousands more have been stunted for life. All because of lead poisoning from local, and illegal, gold mines. In the picture above, courtesy of NPR, a young boy works at one of these illegal mines.
The problem first came to light in 2010, when young children in local villages began dying for no apparent reason. In some villages, more than one-third of children under five died. Doctors Without Borders have set up clinics all over the country, but most of the young children exposed to the lead are mentally and physically stunted. Although doctors have been able to lower the levels of lead in their blood, the problem is that they will never be able to recover.
NPR profiled a young child, Yusef. In 2010, he was a three-year old happy, healthy boy. But suddenly, his mother said, he began convulsing. His mother brought him to the clinic, where doctors found lead levels in his blood to be 30 times higher than what’s considered to be safe.
Two years later, Yusef is only 22 pounds. He can’t speak or walk. And according to doctors quoted by NPR, his prospects don’t look good.
All of this has happened because of the price of gold; it has risen dramatically in recent years, and many illegal gold mines have been created in northwestern Nigeria. Men and boys smash rocks with old car parts to get at the gold. With each swing they take, lead dust flies in the air. Nothing is cleaned, and nothing is regulated.
We’re Part of the Problem
The gold that’s mined here goes all over the world. It’s turned into gold bricks, gold chains, engagement rings, and pendants. We buy this gold because it’s pretty, or because it’s an investment, and never give a second thought to what this means for a boy like Yusef.
But we have to think about it, because our actions are supporting these illegal mines, and we’re becoming part of this heartbreaking problem each time we buy new gold.
As sad as this story is, there are things we can do. First, we can stop buying new gold; instead, buy recycled or fair trade gold.
We can also donate to Doctors Without Borders; this non-profit is amazing, and they’re on the ground saving lives in northwestern Nigeria. Every dollar helps this wonderful organization.
Filed under: Fair Trade News on October 5th, 2012