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Two million at risk of radiation cancer

The world’s six largest tin mine closed in the 1980s. Dawda Dyek used to work as a machinist at its once state-of-the-art workshop but is now just doing odd jobs, Nigeria, 4 April 2007. With the tin mine closed, and massive corruption diverting what res
The world’s six largest tin mine closed in the 1980s. Dawda Dyek used to work as a machinist at its once state-of-the-art workshop but is now just doing odd jobs, Nigeria, 4 April 2007. With the tin mine closed, and massive corruption diverting what res (David Hecht/IRIN)

Nigerian environmental and health officials warn that slightly radioactive tailings found in abandoned mines in central Nigeria’s Plateau state poses a health risk to around two million inhabitants.

Laboratory analysis conducted earlier this year by officials from Nigeria’s nuclear research agency of 1,100 abandoned mines where tin and a mineral called columbite had been mined showed levels of radiation that could be harmful to human health, the officials said.

“The people living around these mining fields are at risk of cancer of the skin, lungs and liver as well as sight impairments from prolonged exposure to radioactive mine tailings we discovered in the mines”, an official from the nuclear research agency told IRIN.

The radioactive soil and rock, called tailings, would have been uncovered from seams during the mining of coal, tin and columbite in the 1960s when over 1,000 mining fields established in Jos, Barikin-Ladi, Bukur, Bassa and Riyom districts.

“Around two million people now live and farm close to the mines which means they are all at risk of the harmful effects of the radioactive emissions from the mining fields,” said Plateau state environment commissioner Nankim Bagudu, who is based in the state capital Jos.

The prevalence of radiation-related ailments in the affected areas has not yet been assessed.

Bagudu said the state government has sent a report to the federal government seeking assistance to reclaim and close down the mining fields.

“From our estimates, we will require US$1.3 billion to take appropriate action,” Bagudu said. If cleaned properly, some of the sites could be used safely for farmland, and even as recreation areas and for housing, he added. 

The environment commissioner said the state government has set aside US$25 million for the start of reclamation work on the mining fields, pending the federal government’s intervention.

Residents in the affected areas said they would carry on living and working and in some cases mining in the area.

“We have been mining in these fields for many years and if we stop we will lose our means of livelihood because we have don’t have any other way to make a living,” said 64 year-old Musa Yakubu, who makes a living mining small pieces of tin and valuable rocks from the abandoned shafts.

“We have no option but to dare the health risks and continue mining until the government provides us with an alternative,” Yakubu said.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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