Zamfara Lead poisoning epidemic and socio-technological intervention of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria By Professor MK Othman



Cleaning the Bagega lead poisoning was an arduous task that needs to be accomplished on sustainable manner.ENACTUS (Entrepreneurship Action and Us) branch of Ahmadu Bello University accorded high level of seriousnessto the Begega Lead poisoning cleaning project. The first activity of the project was the conduct of needs assessment of the community to inspect and ascertain the level of damage done by the Lead poisoning in the area.
Consequently, ENSCTUS involved experts within the university to develop a project, which should be promising, cost – effective, sustainable and inclusive of the beneficiaries. The aim of the project was not only to clean the environment but also filter the water, which has been the medium for conveying the lead into the bodies of animals and human beings. This means that the solution should remove the lead trace from the soil as well as from water. One of the promising technologies is the use of Jatropha plants to remove the traces of lead from the soil. Thus,the ENACTUS team developed a Jatropha Energy Scheme in the area. Jatropha plant is found to have many uses from bio fuel to medicine. Each and every part of the Jatropha plant is found to be useful in some ways. Even the seed cake produced as a by-product is used as an excellent organic fertilizer. Some parts of the plant are used for medical purposes. The most common known use of Jatropha is biofuel as an alternative to the diesel oil. Thanks to the advantageous physicochemical properties of jatropha oil,which make it uniquely similar to the fossil diesel. So, vehicles can use this oil with little or no change in their design. Fortunately, Jatropha plant being a drought – tolerant crop is commonly found in northern Nigeria grown as shrubs or fenced crops. The plant is able to survive on degraded land, often poor and fragile soils with little rainfall. Jatropha has the ability to facilitate sequestration, uptake, translocation, and detoxification of pollutants. It has the ability of extracting heavy metals, like Lead, from the soil. And in recent times, Jatropha has been used in mine tailing, which is used to begin a more natural process of remediation of contaminated soils. It is this discovery that made the ABU ENACTUS team to explore the use of Jatrophato clean the land from lead toxicity, which was and is still affecting the people through plant consumption.
Jatropha plants were massively planted in the affected areas where they are gradually and effectively cleaning the land from lead contamination. While this was going on, the team begins to create solution to the problem on contaminated water as well as creating job alternatives to discourage the habitat from involvement in unprofessional and illegal mining, which brings lead contamination in the environment. Similarly, people were discouraged from farming activities in contaminated land until it is completely cleaned by the Jatropha Energy Scheme.

The biotech filter.

The Team created a biotech-filter for solving the lead poisoning challenge and provided clean portable drinking water to the growing population. How was this done? Removal of lead from industrial processes can be classified into several categories. Some of the most effective methods to remove lead from contaminated water are precipitation, stabilization ion exchange and adsorption. So, the filters have to be designed to meet these requirments. The most important characteristics of water filters are strength, precision, efficiency, clean-ability and longevity, which make them unique to perform their designed functions. The biotech filters acquire these characteristics in addition to the ability to combine three types of filtering system as afore mentioned. Imagine how a wastewater is filtered. The common filtering system permits wastewater drips down from the tank at the top, passes through vegetation, which removes nutrients, organic matter, some kinds of pollution, and some bacteria, before dripping down through sand, charcoal, and gravel filters. The cleaner water is collected for reuse in another tank at the bottom of the filtering system.
ABU ENACTUS biotech filter was designed based on using activated charcoal, produced from charcoal and coconut shell, as an adsorbent medium for heavy metals such as lead, through filtration. The filter is made up of three basic layers; activated charcoal (carbon), dechlorine and zeolites for the purification of water. The activated charcoal was obtained from the dehydration and carbonization of coconut shells, in an airtight furnace to burn at a temperature of 950oC to expand the pores of surface of the coconut shells. Dechlorine was used in adding lost nutrients that might be extracted during this whole process and also to kill bacteria found in the water. Zeolites are more of the same as Bio balls but aid more in enhancing the chemical filtration of the water. Zeolites are large group of minerals consisting of hydrated aluminosilicates of sodium, potassium, calcium, and barium. They can be readily dehydrated and rehydrated and are used as cation exchangers and molecular sieves. Zeolites can be naturally found, however dechlorane were produced in laboratories. How the biotech filter works?
Water is passed through the filter capsule, firstly through the dechlorine layer to act on bacteria, then it moves on to the activated charcoal layer where it would attract heavy metal contaminants and biological agents. Then it goes finally to the zeolite where the final action takes place. These filters were tested to effectively removed of heavy metal contaminants from water, which the water safe for domestic uses as well as for irrigation purposes. What is the post – project activities that will prevent the inhabitants engaging in mining?
The post – project activities were sourcing better income generating enterprises than mining. Thus, the Team was able developed an aquaponic system This is a system which allows integration of aquaculture (growing of fresh fish) and cultivation of plants using a nutrient rich solution and artificial Ultra Violet light (UV light) without the use of soil. The crops produced were fresh tomatoes, cucumber and hot pepper while growing fish simultaneously in the same environment. This aquaponic system was done in collaboration with the National Bio-Technological Development Agency (NBDC). NBDC provided a Resource person and technical support for the building of the aquaphonic system while the United for Climate Change (UCC) provided building materials for the green house farm where the team planted tomato, pepper and cucumber crops and started growing over 150 catfish juveniles.
The system creates a robust agro-allied enterprise among the people there by upgrading subsistence farming activities in the area. This new enterprise in the community subsequently reduced poverty, unemployment, and hunger while generating additional income to the people. In addition, an awareness campaign was mounted alongside a sensitization workshop from Health organizations, and safer mining policy formulation with Federal and State Mining Corporations and legal entities, which further reduced the frequency of lead poisoning cases, providing a greener environment for life within the community.
The project was concluded with production and distribution of Biotech filters to over 50 families in the community to have qualitative and safe water for domestic purposes, which was free from heavy metal contaminants. The team then went ahead to build a Rural Water Hub with the Bio-Filter put in place to filter the water to provide clean and portable water for more members of the Begega community of Zamfara State.
Despite the prodigious challenges common with large universities like ABU Zaria, the university was able to make a gigantic intervention to lead poisoning epidemic in Zamfara state through ENACTUS. The result of this intervention clearly demonstrates the ability of ABU Zaria to effectively address the societal problems when and wherever such problems exist. The project made ABU ENACTUS Team to win the 2017 ENACTUS National Championship in Lagos, before the world-class judges. Similarly, the project won the LEKOIL most Environmentally Sustainable Project challenge.The ENACTUS ABU team represented Nigeria at the ENACTUS World Cup in London, UK in September 2017 with fruitful outcome.
In conclusion, to make the ABU Zaria intervention more beneficial to the affected people of Zamfara state, it is germane that government and other relevant agencies should upscale the pilot project of Begega to other communities. Certainly, ABU Zaria is always a willing partner in this type of venture.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.


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