NGO launches report on water pollution by mining companies
The Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining Changes (WACAM), on Tuesday called for an amendment to and enforcement of the Mineral and Mining law.
This is to make the law more binding on mining operations and address the environmental situation in mining communities in the country.
The Association noted that the current Mineral and Mineral law had numerous gaps that allowed too much flexibility in the operations of mining companies, leading to excessive exploitation of both minerals in the soil, land degradation, pollution of water bodies and the maltreatment of people living in these communities.
Mr. Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive Director, WACAM, said these at the launch of a research report on the “Determination of Heavy Metals in Water Bodies in Tarkwa and Obuasi Mining Areas”, in Accra on Tuesday.
He called on government to take immediate steps to regulate the activities of mining companies and said that the current environmental situation in the country’s mining communities was unacceptable.
Mr Owusu-Koranteng said that land degradation, pollution of water bodies as well as air pollution in these mining communities posed serious health implications to the people, who were found to be suffering from various illnesses.
These included skin and chest diseases, tuberculoses, diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid fever, dizziness and persistent headaches.
Mr Owusu-Koranteng said that the report would serve as a wake-up call for government to act against the pollution of water bodies through mining operations and ensure that agencies tasked with the enforcement of the law lived up to their task and to the expectation of the people.
He explained that recent media accounts and complaints from communities about cyanide spillages as well as the release of other hazardous chemicals including Arsenic, Manganese, Cadmium, Iron, Copper, Mercury, Zinc and Lead into water bodies through mining operations, necessitated the assessment of the levels of heavy metals in water in the study areas, which was supported by Oxfarm America.
Mr Owusu-Koranteng said the research indicated that most of the rivers in the mining areas of Obuasi and Tarkwa were polluted with elevated levels of these hazardous chemicals, which was far above the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ghana Environmental Protection Agency’s (GEPA) permissible levels.
He said the report cited River Nyam in Obuasi, which had Arsenic concentration of 13.56 as against 0.01 required by the WHO and the GEPA.
Mr Owusu-Koranteng said the research revealed that River Asuakoo had 22.72 milligram per liter (mg/L) as against 0.4mg/L Manganese concentration required under WHO permissible guideline value and 24.00mg/L as against 2mg/L under the WHO permissible guideline value.
He said similar high levels of these chemicals were found in all the rivers and streams tested in the study areas.
Mr Owusu-Koranteng said that such exposure to elevated levels of toxic chemicals had other significant health implications such as reduced level of Intelligent Quota (IQ) in children.
He said fresh water situation in Africa was currently not encouraging and that it has been estimated that 300 million people on the continent lived in water-scarce environment and 18 African countries including Ghana were expected to experience water stress by 2025.
“The amount of freshwater available for each person in Africa is about one-quarter of what it was in 1950. Ghana is listed among countries that would experience water stress of 1700 cubic meters or less per person by 2025,” Mr Owusu-Koranteng quoted from a publication in the Ghanaian Chronicle, July 25, 2003 edition.
He said that the water situation should be taken seriously in the light of global climate change, in which the Fourth Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated that Ghana would experience water stress by the year 2015, a date not far from now.
Professor Atta Biritwum, a lecturer at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), observed that “minerals endowed in the soils of third world countries had become a curse rather than a blessing, as the processes used in their extraction left the land in very bad shapes and its inhabitants poor and diseased.”
He said it was unfortunate that agencies that were tasked with the watch-dog role did not live up to the expectation of such mining communities and appealed to government to consider the cry of the people living in forest areas in the recent advocacy for forest mining.
Prof. Biritwum opposed advocacy for mining in forest areas where the chunk of the nation’s food supply came from.
He any such move was unacceptable and should be discouraged abruptly as signing on to such contracts would be equal to signing a death sentence for the entire nation.
Prof. Biritwum said this could also increase the poverty levels of the people thereby preventing Ghana from attaining the objectives of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG).
He said as it was evident in most communities, mining companies were operating completely outside regulations and called on the EPA to intensify its monitoring efforts to bring recalcitrant persons to book.
Mr. Samuel Obiri, a Research Fellow and Executive Director with the Centre for Environmental Impact Analysis (CEIA), said the seriousness of the situation as far as environmental and water pollution in mining communities in Ghana were concerned, required a joint collaboration of government and stakeholders to provide alternate potable water for the inhabitants should mining operations in these areas cease.
He said the results of the research showed that most water bodies in the study areas were polluted with high Arsenic level ranging from 0.005 to 35.4 milligrams.
Mr Obiri said Manganese, Lead and Mercury were neurotoxic metals which could affect the IQ of children if exposed in high level in drinking water.
He said in all 400 water samples, made up of 200 from Obuasi and 200 from Tarkwa areas were collected between May and September 2008 and each sample was analyzed separately for toxic chemicals including Arsenic, Manganese, Cadmium, Iron, Copper, Mercury, Zinc and Lead.
Mr Obiri said physico-chemical parameters such as the pH, conductivity, turbidity and total dissolved solids were measured using standard methods of analysis as prescribed by the American Water Works Association (AWWA, 1998).
He said the turbidity of some of the water bodies and alternate source of water provided had low pH and high turbidity values, which exceeded the WHO and GEPA permissible limits.
Mr Obiri recommended that regular follow-up studies to measure the levels of heavy metals and other toxic chemicals in water bodies in the study areas be undertaken to substantiate the study and ascertain the level of degradations.
He called on mining companies, government, the Minerals Commission, Water Resources Commission, Ghana Water Company Limited and the District Assemblies to adopt a method or technology to remove the high levels of toxic chemicals from the water bodies in these mining communities.