• Live
    • Audio Only
  • google plus
  • facebook
  • twitter
News > World

Ghana: Wildcat Gold Miners Perish From Mercury Seeking Riches

  • An informal gold miner mixes mercury with water and dirt in a plastic tub to extract gold at a site in Bawdie, Ghana, April 5, 2019.

    An informal gold miner mixes mercury with water and dirt in a plastic tub to extract gold at a site in Bawdie, Ghana, April 5, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 24 July 2019
Opinion

Mercury is killing the wildcat miners in Ghana to feed the need in the UAE (United Arab Emirates.)

Mercury is killing the wildcat miners in Ghana to feed the need in the UAE (United Arab Emirates.)

RELATED: 

Ghana: May Day Protesters Plead for Pension Reform

A Reuters special report finds that since 2003, the UAE has importing about US$10.6 billion worth of illicitly-mined Ghanaian gold, meaning it was excavated by wildcat miners who, as they go for gold (and a decent wage) they poison the environment and themselves.

Mercury takes over:

Miners inhale fumes from explosives used to loosen rocks, which also creates dust — both bad for the lungs. But it’s mercury, used to leach the precious ore out of sediment, that is the biggest culprit to damaging miners’ lungs.

Mercury is an especially dangerous poison that, after long exposure to the vapor, causes  pulmonary fibrosis, lung disease and chronic respiratory problems. In Ghana, researchers consistently find mercury toxicity in the blood and urine of residents, as well as in soil, food, water and fish. 

Around Bawdie, Ghana where illicit gold mining is at national highs, researchers in 2016 found, mercury levels in drinking water that were, on average, at least 10 times higher than international safety levels, and 86 times higher in one area of the region.

Big multinational mining firms also cause pollution, but informal mines can be worse, says Reuters. A United Nations report published this year said artisanal and small-scale gold mining accounts for up to 80 percent of Sub-Saharan emissions of mercury, an element that can cut short a person’s life by years.

A 2016 report by the International Institute for Environment and Development estimated a million people in Ghana make a living in what some call artisanal mining, and 4.5 million more depend on it. When the other option is poverty, many choose to continue to mine gold knowing the monetary rewards.

As a teenager in 2002, Ghanaian Yaw Ngoha was already making US$300 per week mining, as opposed to US$5 a week farming. 

"We needed money," Ngoha told Reuters, referring to him and his new family.

By 2016, Ngoha started coughing up blood and was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but it was actually mercury poisoning. Mercury is a controlled substance in Ghana, but it is smuggled in.

States steps:

Only until recently has the Ghanaian state done anything to curb illegal mining.

President Nana Akufo-Addo tried to crack down, banning all informal mining – even by miners who had licenses – between January 2017 and 2018.

In addition, "illegal mining has had a devastating effect on our environment," Environment Minister Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng says, adding 80 percent of the nation’s waterways were polluted by excavating gold and other precious minerals.

RELATED: 

Italian Man Who Shot Migrants Given 12-Year Prison Term

The temporary mining ban was supposed to give the government time to register all miners and improve regulation. However, fewer than 1,500 of Ghana's million or so miners were ever vetted. The government declined to comment on why.

Last April, Ngoha stopped mining, his cough rasping, his thighs as thin as his calves — accumulated effects of mercury exposure over the past decade and a half.

Ngoha told Reuters at the time, "everyone’s (dead) except me," referring to his friends and family members who once also mined.

In early May, Yaw Ngoha died, his lungs unable to support him.

Comment
0
Comments
Post with no comments.