Car Batteries Killing Off African Town

18 children die before cause found; cleanup efforts unsuccessful
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 4, 2009 12:32 PM CST
Coumba Diaw holds her youngest daughter, who she fears suffers from developmental problems due to lead exposure during pregnancy.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
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(Newser) – A mystery illness that plagued a Senegalese town and sparked fears of AIDS, polio, and curses came down to an odd source: car batteries, the AP reports. After 18 deaths and pleas for an investigation, a World Health Organization probe blamed lead for poisoning the village, a center for battery recycling. Locals were sifting through soil for battery bits to cash in on lead's rising value.

"It started with a fever," explains the mother of a poisoned toddler. "She would tremble and her eyes would roll back. She would drool." Informed by WHO's probe, the hospital was able to save her—but lead remains in the ground, despite a government cleanup. Other Third World nations suffer from similar scourges with batteries. "There's not a developing country where this isn't happening," one advocate said.