‘How improper coal mining poses danger to health, others’

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By Kehinde Olatunji

A new study has revealed that improper coal mining could cause spontaneous abortion and affect the reproductive health of both males and females, among other negative effects, in the host communities.

Out of 28 coal blocks identified across 12 states, Kogi State is leading with 8 blocks while Enugu State has 6. Coal mining is currently active in Kogi, Benue and Gombe states.

Already, some communities who are largely dependent on agriculture as their source of livelihood are protesting that their lands are being degraded and polluted at an alarming rate by coal miners who allegedly did not conduct environmental impact assessment.

An associate professor, Nazil Hossain, and Elizabeth Westerlund Triche, a research scientist epidemiology, in a joint study, linked failed pregnancy in mining communities to exposure to heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

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The study, which examined environmental factors that could cause miscarriages in coal mining settlements, concluded that the effects of improper mining could lead to abortion.

“Lead readily crosses the placenta, and has been found to have teratogenic effects and is known to affect the hormonal environment needed to maintain the pregnancy,” the report says. Lead has also been found to be associated with stillbirths in humans.

Section 116 of the Mining Act (2007) states: “Subject to the provisions of this section, the holder of a Mining Lease, SmaIl Scale Mining Lease or Quarry Lease shall prior to the commencement of any development activity within the lease area, conclude with the host community where the operations are to be conducted, an agreement referred to as a community development agreement or other such agreement that will ensure the transfer of social and economic benefits to the community.”

But it was learnt that this provision has been grossly flouted, as residents complained about mining activities without recourse to environmental safety standards and proper compensation to the community.

An environmental activist, Okwori Onaji, decried a situation where coal deposits cover Owukpa, a community in Benue State where he said coal mining was taking place.

In Kogi State, the Community Coal Mining Committee Chairman, Aliyu Suleiman, said there had been decline in the quantity of produce from their farmlands since the commencement of mining activities in the community.

“The farmers are exposed to contaminants from soil and air as they handle the soil with bare hands. Also important is the safety of farm produce for human consumption and nutrient-supplying capacity of the soil. A test conducted on a sample of soil collected from a farm close to the mining site showed the presence of some heavy metals.”

A Global Rights’ fact sheet titled “Power at all Cost! The opportunity Cost” specifically indicated that coal mining has led to drying up of wells in host communities and contamination of streams when effluents from the mines are washed down during wet season due to the landscape.

The fact sheet listed gastrointestinal diseases, liver damage, kidney and nerves defeat, among others, as health conditions to which residents of host coal mining villages are susceptible..

In its recommendations, the Global Rights urged the Federal Government to abide by its commitments to the Paris Agreement, which requires phased reduction of greenhouse gases emissions.

It urged the Federal Ministry of Environment to immediately carry out environmental impact assessment of all the coal-mining sites in Nigeria, while calling on Dangote Industries to urgently review its operations and ensure they adhere to the UN guiding principle on business and human rights.

The Kogi State Commissioner for Solid Minerals and Natural Resources, Abubakar Mohammed, who spoke through his Public Relations Officer, Solomon Musa, said that when in January 29, 2020 he met with all the mining companies operating within the state, he received a complaint letter that coal mining was undermining the health of the people in the Eastern Senatorial District where the activities were taking place.

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