This environmental health disaster calls for urgent attention.
Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region is home to vast oil and gas reserves. However, exploring and extracting these resources causes environmental degradation, pollution, and health problems for local communities and ecosystems. A recent study by the University of Port Harcourt researchers found heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, in breast milk samples from women in the Niger Delta region. This finding highlights the urgent, critical need for global action to address the region’s environmental and health risks. And tackle similar cases around the world.
Breast milk samples from 144 lactating women in three facilities in the Niger Delta region were analyzed during the study. All samples contained unacceptable levels of arsenic, lead, and cadmium – toxic metals that can have harmful effects on human health – especially on children’s developing brains.
Lead and cadmium are known to cause a range of health problems, including stunted growth, slow brain development, milestone delays, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of these metals, and newborn babies for whom breastmilk is often their only source of nourishment, this is especially dire. Because their brains and bodies are still developing, they are more likely to absorb and retain these toxins than adults.
This is not an isolated case. Similar cases of heavy metal contamination in breast milk have been reported worldwide, including in Spain and Bangladesh.
The global community must take urgent action to address the health risks of heavy metal contamination. Governments must strengthen regulations, monitoring, and enforcement to prevent industrial pollution and clean up contaminated sites. Breast milk is a precious life-giving resource that must be protected at all costs. And the world must not turn a blind eye as women and babies suffer from the effects of heavy metal contamination. The best time to act was years ago; the next best time? Now.