Xenobiotics and heavy metals in Ghana


The project addresses dispersal and effects of heavy metals and xenobiotic substances in the Ghanaian environment, primarily from rapidly increasing activities in informal economic sectors like artisanal mining (ASM) and management of waste electronic and electric equipment (WEEE). Earlier local-scale investigations and studies at known polluted sites prove the problem is important, but little systematic and dependable data exist on larger scale. Although ASM activities have been sought regulated since 1989, the efforts have in many studies been evalu-ated as ineffective, and awareness is low on individual and community level.

The project combines measurement of background concentrations in soil, water and air across the country with measurements of high temporal and spatial resolution in intensive study areas with known pollution sources. Different scales and types of models are used.
The project includes high resolution data from UAV (drone) borne sensors and remote sensing. The aim is to describe the dispersal of emissions from different sources, and the relative contribution to concentration levels and trends in background areas at country scale. The output will be used to assess existing and future effects on human health, ecosystems, and food production. Social science research is included to investigate how access to information and knowledge can be used to raise awareness, remove barriers for adaptation of better practices, and develop better risk handling strategies at individual and community level. A participatory approach is used.

The project will increase the competences at KNUST in conducting large-scale interdisciplinary field studies and using multi-scale modelling to address environmental and health risks. For the Ghanaian society, the knowledge will be important for policy development both at state, and district levels, and for stakeholders in the civil society like NGO’s, and producer’s organizations for e.g. cocoa, palm oil, sugar, and fish.


Midterm report:

The background concentrations of mercury in soil across the entire country have been obtained. Mercury concentration of soil from two of the local areas have also been determined. The results indicate that there is widespread mercury pollution of the soil in the southern part of the country and the levels exceed internationally accepted guideline limits. One of the communities (Gbani) was found to be is at risk of mercury pollution.

Results from e-waste sites indicate that Hg levels exceed background levels by a factor of 44. Interactions with e-waste operators indicated 59% of them are aware of the potential health risks attributed to the activity whilst 39% are unaware of the associated environmental risks.
Results from preliminary data indicated that small scale miners are exposed to a number of health problems including severe muscle pain and respiratory distress. The study however revealed that miners could not relate the various health problems to the type of work they engaged in.