Escalating Community Metals Poisoning due to Changes in Global Economy

Review of metals markets over the last 50 years reveals high prices leading to risky and ill-advised behavior, resulting in large numbers of poisoned workers and communities. From the environmental health perspective, damage associated with mining and smelting is largely in proportion to safeguards countries have in place. In the last two decades, much of polluting activities associated with minerals production has shifted from High Income Countries to the developing world, resulting in some of the worst incidents of community metals poisoning in history. In 2010 in northern Nigeria, the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières discovered the world’s worst lead poisoning epidemic in remote villages where residents were mining for gold. More than 17,000 people were severely poisoned and 400-500 children died in six months. Several international organizations collaborated with Nigerian health authorities, and local civil and traditional governments in providing emergency medical, environmental, technical, and public health response.

Dr. Ian von Lindern is co-founder of TerraGraphics International Foundation (TIFO), a non-governmental organization that specializes in reducing human health risks in developing countries associated with exposure to environmental contaminants. TIFO assisted the Nigerian governments in designing and implementing the largest lead health cleanup yet undertaken in a developing country. The project was modeled on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) “Superfund” protocols adapted to the local cultural and socio-economic system and technical capabilities.

Dr. von Lindern holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Environmental Science and Engineering from Yale University. He has 40 years of experience in human health risk assessment and environmental remediation and has led five international cleanup projects in China, Russia, Dominican Republic, Senegal, and Zamfara, Nigeria. The work has been recognized with United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) GreenStar Award for outstanding humanitarian services and Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Dr. von Lindern serves on the U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB), reviewing the scientific basis for lead regulatory policy for the U.S.