|Skin rashes as a result of intake of arsenic|
A baseline study conducted by the Centre for Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA), Ghana and WACAM in 2008, has revealed that out of the 160 streams and rivers in the Obuasi mining area, 145 are perceived by residents to be polluted by the operations of mining companies and ‘galamsey’ operators.
It says in the Tarkwa mining area as well, all the 117 rivers and streams in the area are perceived to have been polluted by mining companies and ‘galamsey’ operators.
This is because indigenes in those areas have since 2004 reported thousands of cases of skin diseases (keratosis) and type II diabetes caused by the high intake of arsenic, a carcinogen associated with gold ores.
Further, the study said most of the residents perceived that the alternate source of water provided for them by mining companies are not of good quality.
Making the findings of the study known last week at a water, sanitation and hygiene conference at Busua near Takoradi dubbed Mole XXII Conference, Mr. Samuel Obiri, a researcher at CEIA said however, that pollution in the two areas does not only border on perceptions.
“A recent report issued by the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on human rights abuses in mining communities confirmed the assertion of residents of mining communities that most of water borne diseases they suffer are as a result of the bad quality of water supplied to them after their sources of drinking water have been destroyed,” he said, quoting CHRAJ’s 2008 report.
The water bodies have largely been polluted by arsenic, which is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust found alongside some gold ores such as arsenopyrite ores and which according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), is a class ‘A’ human cancer causing agent that affects the lung, liver, kidney, bladder and skin.
This is normally preceded by gastrointestinal symptoms, central and peripheral neuropathy, bone marrow suppression, upper respiratory symptoms, skin keratosis and hyper-pigmentation among others, Mr. Obiri said while speaking on the topic “IMPLICATIONS OF GOLD MINING ON THE WASH SECTOR: A CASE STUDY OF ARSENIC POLLUTION IN TARKWA NSUAEM MUNICIPALITY AND PRESTEA HUNI VALLEY DISTRICT”.
True to this, the arsenic related diseases reported at the Health Directorate of the Wassa West District, which houses the two areas of the study show that, from 2004 to 2006 alone, skin diseases reported moved from 1,634 to 3,825 and then 4066 respectively.
On the other hand, the incidence of Diabetes Melitus, a type II diabetes, for the same period, was 388, increased to 441 and then reduced to 369 in 2006.
According to the study, arsenic induced disease records from the Health Directorates of the Prestea Huni Valley District (PHVD) and the Tarkwa Nsuaem Municipal Assembly (TNMA), show an increase of skin diseases from 1,409 to 3,544 in the Prestea District from 2007 to 2009 while there have been no reported cases of the type II diabetes.
At the TNMA however, the incidence of hyper-pigmentation and keratosis increased sharply from 8,507 to 10, 827, to 11,894 from 2007 to 2009 and only reduced to 7,002 in 2010. Diabetes cases also rose sharply from 939 to 1,626 to 2,857 from 2007 to 2009 and reduced to 1,610 in 2010.
The arsenic content of the sources of water in the two areas of study were also reflected in the fact that most of the communities investigated had their levels way beyond the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (GEPA), United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and World Health Organisation (WHO) permissible levels.
For instance in the Tarkwa Nsuaem Municipality, a community, Ateberebe, had the highest arsenic concentration of 2.451 milligrams per litre, which put it 245.1% beyond GEPA’s accepted level and 24510% above the USEPA and WHO accepted levels.
The highest arsenic concentration in the Prestea District was found in Twiagya, which had a concentration of 4.563 milligrams per litre, thus an excess concentration of 456.3% for Ghana and 45630% for the US and WHO.
In view of the findings, CEIA has recommended that a similar study be conducted in different regions or mining communities to assess the health impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals used in mining operations by both small scale mining and mining companies.
The Centre has also proposed that the Ghana Health Service should develop a new format for reporting and recording of mining related diseases that are reported at health institutions in mining communities in the country, while civil society organisations working in the sector should advocate for mining companies to conduct Health Impact Assessment in addition to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Also, the EPA, Water Resources Commission, National Commission on Civic Education, CHRAJ and the Minerals Commission have been tasked to educate residents of mining communities on the contents of EIA documents before the public hearing on such documents submitted by mining companies.
Mr. Samuel Obiri explained that the study was conducted because gold attracts prominence in the mineral sector and that revenues from gold account for about 96% of the total mineral revenues of the country. “Total annual mineral exports rose from US$115.3 million in 1984 to US$995.2 million in 200,” he stated.
He said it is also because the mining sector now accounts for more than 30% of gross foreign exchange earnings. Touching on the objectives of the study, he said “The overall goal of the study is to collect evidence of the health effect of arsenic exposure in mining areas.”
“The specific objectives of this project are to determine the concentration of arsenic in water bodies in Tarkwa Nsuaem Municipality and Prestea Huni Valley District. To use multivariate logistic regression to establish relationship between exposure to arsenic in drinking water and non – cancer chronic arsenic related diseases reported at the Tarkwa Municipal Hospital,” he added.
In conducting the study, random sampling techniques were used in selecting nine communities from Tarkwa Nsuaem municipality and Prestea Huni Valley District.
|Pollution of River Asasre in Himan by Galamsey|
Additionally, ethical clearance was obtained from the Ghana Health Service Ethics Review Committee and random sampling techniques adopted in selecting 1,185 adult respondents in the study area who answered a set of questionnaire.
Furthermore, health records of the 1,185 respondents were obtained from the Tarkwa Municipal Hospital, Prestea Hospital and Bogoso Hospital respectively, while analysis of the data gathered was limited to resident adults aged over 35 years who reported drinking water bodies sampled for the study for the past 20 or more years.