“Unlike some other West African countries, Ghana allows mercury use in mining. Mercury is freely available in shops and can be bought with a canister, bottle, or as a ball wrapped in a plastic cling film, and much of it has been brought in by Chinese miners.
“Ghana has an estimated one million small-scale gold miners (Galamseyers), and they commonly use mercury to process gold.
“They mix the mercury with the ore to create a gold-mercury amalgam, and then burn the mercury off so the raw gold remains.
“The problems stemming from mercury use don’t stop at exposure from inhalation. Once used for gold processing, mercury-contaminated water is often dumped on the ground, polluting Ghana’s rivers and lakes, and poisoning its fish and those who eat them (HRW, 2014).”
A typical example of toxic mercury contamination impacting negatively on public health happened in Minamata, Japan, between 1932 and 1968, where a factory producing acetic acid discharged waste liquid into Minamata Bay.
The discharge included high concentrations of methylmercury. The bay was rich in fish and shellfish, providing the main livelihood for local residents and fishermen from other areas.
Many years passed without no one realising that the fish were contaminated with mercury, and that it was causing a strange disease in the local community and in other districts.
It was reported that at least 50,000 people were affected to some extent and more than 2,000 cases of Minamata disease were identified.
Unfortunately, Minamata disease escalated in the 1950s, with severe cases of brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium (WHO, 2017).
“Minamata disease, also known as Chisso-Minamata disease, is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect foetuses” (See: www.bu.edu/sustainability/minamata-disease).
As a bioaccumulative and toxic pollutant, when released into the atmosphere, mercury dissolves in water-laid sediments and it can be consumed by fish and then ends up in the food chain of humans (Merem, Wesley, Isokpehi et al. 2016).
In that sense, toxic mercury pollution poses an enormous public health hazard and environmental risk (Merem, Wesley, Isokpehi et al. 2016).
Through extant research study, it has been established that mercury exposure can happen in the environment as well as in occupational and domestic settings (WHO 2017).
As part of the prevailing predicament, mercury poisoning involves the condition instigated by exposure at an accelerated dosage which could augment fatal health effects on communities.
It has been identified that exposure to mercury could crystallise in several ways, including, inter alia, dental amalgam fillings and the consumption of contaminated seafood, and more importantly, the dangers of mercury exposure can happen in and outside of built environments. As a result, most individuals are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound when they consume fish containing methylmercury (Merem, Wesley, Isokpehi et al. 2016).
Some experts however suggest that Methylmercury biomagnifies. For example, large predatory fish are more likely to have high levels of mercury as a result of eating many smaller fish that have acquired mercury through ingestion of plankton.
People may be exposed to mercury in any of its forms under different circumstances. However, exposure mainly occurs through consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated with methylmercury and through worker inhalation of elemental mercury vapours during industrial processes (WHO, 2017).
That being said, considering the dangers associated with illegal mining, no one seemed to be policing the illegal activities of the wayward Ghanaians and their Chinese counterparts.
Given that the small-scale mining operation is capital intensive, the Ghanaians who do not have the upfront capital, albeit manage to secure the mining concessions, end up passing such licences to their Chinese counterparts.
The careless Chinese illegal miners then end up violating the laws which govern the small-scale mining sector.
The overarching question then is: Why are the regulators (the Ghana Minerals Commission and other bodies) refusing to keep a close eye on the illegal activities of the unpatriotic Ghanaians and their foreign minions, many of whom are bent on destroying the environment?
It is absolutely true that potential economic benefits (employment, tax revenues and development outcomes) can be derived from small-scale mining sectors in Ghana.
We cannot also deny the fact that small-scale mining is a significant contributor to the economic and social well-being of many people and households in rural, remote, and poor communities in Ghana.
However, the way small-scale mining sector is being managed in Ghana, it does not look promising. The sector is being managed appallingly.
Somehow, the laws which govern the small-scale mining sector are confused and inconsistent. Suffice it to emphasise that all the attention is basically being focused on the large-scale mining sector, leaving the small-scale mining sector at a substantial disadvantage.
In addition, the effective implementation of regulations and fortifications towards the developmental potential of the sector must be the topmost importance to the regulating authorities.
It must also be emphasised that societies at large have been both positively and negatively affected by small-scale mining.
The positive effects include the extraction of ores from small deposits or from tailings which provide the rural folks and other small-scale miners with sustainable incomes.
On the other hand, the negative effects include, among other things, environmental degradation, water pollution, the release of mercury and other toxic and hazardous wastes into the free environment, and unforeseen social tensions that can lead to civil unrest.
However, on the preponderance of probability, the negative effects outweigh the positive effects, and therefore it was prudent for any serious, committed and forward-thinking leader to put tabs on the activities of the unscrupulous illegal miners.
Sadly, however, some of us can attest to the fact that the lunatic fringe of the Chinese illegal miners are back in business following the lifting of the ban on small-scale mining.
Given the criminal intent of the illegal miners, we are, more than ever, urgently required by our military power to combat the menace of the impenitent nation wreckers who are bent on stealing our natural resources and destroying the environment.
Let us face it, they, the scumbags, are well-prepared and they routinely carry out their illegal activities with military precisions, and can strike as lighting, and as deadly and destructive as molten magma.
In sum, the illegal miners’ invasion of our rural areas with the view to forcibly digging our mineral resources, polluting our sources of drinking water, destroying the environment and above all terrorising the natives is tantamount to war.
By Kwaku Badu