A tragedy for communities in northern Nigerian has revealed some of the hidden costs of gold jewelry. Over 160 people, mainly children, have died in Nigeria from exposure to lead released by small-scale gold mining. Looks like Zamfara state in Nigeria is another place where gold is tinged with the blood of poisoned communities.
Artisanal gold miners in Zamfara state did not realize that the gold ore they were extracting contained high lead concentrations. Then people realized the children were sick and dying not from malaria, but from lead. Children blood lead levels are registering at 30 times higher than toxic levels, and soil lead registering 23 times higher than acceptable level.
Jewelery companies are increasingly familiar with concerns over dirty gold from large-scale gold mining. But gold from artisanal gold mining often comes with a heavy cost too. And gold just doesn’t look that pretty if you picture on its shiny surface the reflections of child labor and bloody conflict and atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo — or dead and dying children poisoned by lead in Nigeria. How can retailers like Target and T.J. Maxx continue to ignore such impacts and refuse to even sign the Golden Rules commitment?
Small-scale gold mining isn’t necessarily so deadly. Our report on artisanal and small-scale gold mining, The Quest for Responsible Gold Mining, not only explains the destructive impacts of such mining but also points to the potential for more responsible small-scale projects to protect the health, well-being, and rights of communities and to minimize environmental impacts. Of course, very careful management of such projects is needed to guarantee such responsible practices.
Until jewelers can certify that their gold comes from sources that do not destroy communities and the environment, gold jewelry companies and consumers are potentially linked to tragedies like the one unfolding in Zamfara, Nigeria.