Article: Galamsey headache, we all need to speak up

I wish every Ghanaian will take a deep breath and reflect on our actions on the natural environment just for a second.

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When we where young we all sang along with these adages “water is life and cleanliness is next to Godliness”, but now these doesn’t matter anymore and we seem to forget the impact of our action on the environment, our health, other ecological receptors and our ability or that of our next generation to have sustainable access to clean water free of toxic chemicals in the future. Everyone is careless and silent because we seem not to see the problem in this or if we do, we still believe in our culture which says standing against authority is disrespectful. Regardless of all these, we will definitely pay the price for messing up the environment especially major water bodies with illegal mining in the country one day

Why are some of us worried about this!

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When a water body is polluted with toxic chemicals like mercury and other harmful chemicals used in the mining process, the highly insoluble mercury in water (except when attached to dissolved organic material) remains in soils for long periods of time, slowly releasing mercury compounds back to the water body and air. The mercury can also seep into ground water resulting in groundwater contamination.

A polluted river in Ghana

Living organisms in the water such as bacteria and fishes may transforms the inorganic mercury into a more toxic organic form called methylmercury. The methylmercury is more toxic because it can partition into living organisms in water such as fish and accumulate in their fatty tissues. And here is where the woes of our actions of polluting water bodies with mercury through galamsey begins.

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Pollution of water bodies, sediment and underground water will increase the cost of water purification processes. The irony of the issue is that over 80 % of the Ghanaian population depend on natural sources of water other than treated water from Ghana water company. Hence, a polluted water body or underground water with mercury means most of the population will be exposed to mercury through drinking water from wells, boreholes, rivers and any other natural water source used by a community in Ghana.

On the other hand, the transformed mercury, methylmecury which’s an organometallic compound can partition into fishes and transferred to humans through the food chain (feeding on fishes in a mercury contaminated water). Once the methylmercury gets into our body it will bioaccumulate into our fatty tissues and attack target organs such as nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, skin and eyes. This may result in health disorders such as Neurological and behavioural disorders, tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches, cognitive and motor dysfunction, increased protein in the urine to kidney failure or death when exposed to higher dose or concentration.

The problem is, these effect may not be identified now. Because it takes a long time for the adversity of a polluted environment to manifest it impact on humans. And hence, if care is not taken there is going to be a time where Ghana has to look for aid to supply clean water to citizens or citizens have to be over taxed to get access to clean water. It is not far.

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If you want to read more about how illegal activities has caused so much to the health, socioeconomic and government spending of a country just google “Environmental issues in the Niger Delta” to see how illegal extraction of natural Resources is costing so much to our sister country Nigeria.

This is why every concerned citizen must say something.

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By: Paul Baidoo
Chevening Scholar 2017,
PhD candidate in Environment Engineering, 
University of Texas at Arlington, USA.

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