Kenya: Report attributes children's birth defects to mercury use in artisanal gold mining

Author: Annie Njanja, Business Daily (Kenya), Published on: 2 May 2019

"Children bear brunt of poisonous gold mining"

Fidel Omitta lies on a thin blanket spread on the floor of his mother’s house in Osiri Matanda, some 30 kilometres from Migori town. He is unable to make any meaningful movement. Aged five years, Omitta should be outside playing with his peers, but a fresh wound on his right hand, laboured breathing and the permanent sadness on his face, tell the story of a stolen childhood. He neither walks nor talks. His mother, Jullita Atieno, has had to learn his needs from a sign language system only she understands and which mainly relies on Omitta’s facial expressions. Her son’s woes are suspected by a group of environmental health experts to be linked to mercury exposure from the gold mining exploits at Osiri Matanda, one of Kenya’s biggest artisanal gold mining sites, and where Jullita, and many other mothers from the area, work...Jullita welcomes us into her two-roomed house that she shares with her husband, John Omitta, and seven children. Her son is just one of numerous survivors of suspected mercury poisoning in the area...

Velma and the junior Omitta are among about 20 children born with birth defects by women with elevated mercury level exposure within the mining district. More young victims remain hidden from the public as some locals attribute their deformities and other symptoms such as seizures to witchcraft. Most of these children, who have been identified by Kenya’s Centre for Environmental Justice and Development (CEJAD) for an upcoming in-depth analysis, have lost motor skills and are unable to speak. They exhibit physical and neurological deformities. The heavy metal, regarded as a neurological poison, is known to cause crippling disabilities, nervous system disorders and birth defects.

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