GOVERNMENT has raised the red flag warning that artisanal and small scale mining exposes mining communities across Ghana to high and potentially dangerous levels of toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium.
These toxic metals, the government noted contaminates "our water, soil, sediment and food" and in the process inorganic mercury is also released into the air hence the need for Ghanaians to encourage themselves to strictly adhere to "our" collective environmental policy.
In a statement signed by the Information Minister, Mustapha Abdul Hamid and copied the Ghanaian Times in Accra yesterday, government said mercury pollution has been observed in Tarkwa, Obuasi in the Eastern Region and also in Talensi and Nabdam in the Upper East Region.
According to the statement, research conducted by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) which evaluated concentrations of trace metals in drinking sources in the Tarkwa area, revealed that "33% of boreholes and 58% of river waters exceeded the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline value of 400 µg/l for Manganese (Mn) in drinking water."
An important scientific finding in mining communities in other parts of the world, the statement said is that mercury levels, as detected in urine, between miners and non-miners are usually not very different.
"Both groups are equally exposed to relatively high levels. It is believed that the situation in Ghana may not be different. Therefore, it is in the interest of the whole community to ensure that mercury is no longer used in gold recovery" the statement admonished.
Linking arsenic, cancer and birth defects, it said arsenic concentrations above 50 micro grams as found in Tarkwa and other parts of the Western Region was associated with increased risk of developing cancer such as cancer of the bladder, kidney, liver, lung and prostate.
"Arsenic can cause skin lesions including hyper-pigmentation. Acute arsenic poisoning can result in death. Inorganic arsenic is known to be associated with impaired foetal growth, foetal death and increased infant mortality. The reason is that arsenic can cross the placenta to cause damage to the foetus" the statement stated.
It was in this vein that government said its fight against Galamsey is not only about the protection of the ecosystem but also preservation of human health and that of the entire biosphere.
"Ghanaians should encourage themselves to strictly adhere to our collective environmental policy, which is designed to improve the surroundings, living conditions and the quality of life of the entire citizenry, for both present and future generations" the statement said.
It assured citizens that it was not against citizens eking out a living from the mineral resources of the country.
"Government will however act responsibly to ensure that the lives of the citizens are protected, and the environment is safeguarded. Only in doing this can we be sure to bequeath a nation to generations yet unborn" the statement
In March last year, government suspended all small scale mining activities across the country after fears were expressed that the country could be importing water in the next five years if nothing was done to arrest the spate of devastation by small scale miners.