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Illegal gold mining leads to scores of deaths in northern Nigeria

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- More than 160 Nigerians, including scores of children, have died of lead poisoning this year because of illegal gold mining, the nation's chief epidemiologist said Saturday.

Henry Akpan said 163 people, including 111 children, died since January in Zamfara state in northern Nigeria, the latest casualties in a long-running problem. He said people have been sickened when they've tried to leach gold from rock deposits,

Akpan said state and local health officials are working with international agencies such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control to fight the problem.

He said decontamination efforts have begun and illegal mining in the area has been halted.