Experts and stakeholders have met to dialogue and find working solutions to the effects of heavy metals in a day’s workshop under the project dubbed “Xenobiotic Substances and Heavy Metals in the Environment – A Threat to Health, Ecosystems and Development (SHEATHE)”.
The project is a collaborative effort between the Department of Chemistry of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Aarhus University of Denmark funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) through the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
SHEATHE uses an inter-disciplinary and a multi-scale approach to address environmental and health risks with researchers from the Colleges of Art and Built Environment, Humanities and Social Sciences, Agric, Science and Engineering, as well as the Ghana Meteorological Agency and the Water Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
KNUST together with partner institutions will over the next 5 years conduct a major research in the area of environmental analytical chemistry. It is in this direction that stakeholders in the project met to present findings, discuss and to address the dispersal and effects of heavy metals and xenobiotic substances in the Ghanaian environment, primarily from the rapidly increasing activities in the informal economic sectors such as artisanal mining (ASM) and management of the waste products of electronic and electric equipment (WEEE).
The workshop saw presentations from experts as well as six PhD students who are on the project as part of capacity building efforts, who will handle the four divisions of the project.
Giving an overview of the project, Dr. Godfred Darko, the Project Coordinator, explained that there would be country-wide assessment of pollution patterns and trends through data analysis with classical statistical methods and models. Data on soils, population density, land cover and climate would be also be analysed.
There will also be community-based risk assessment on effects of access to information and in developing risk handling strategies as well as investigations in 3 ASM and 2 WEE communities. He further said the project would also make use of data collection, measurements and chemical analysis using analytical procedures and equipment such as the research drone.
It is expected that at the end of the project, there will be improved understanding of how different anthropogenic activities have affected concentrations. There will also be model systems to describe the chain of activities from emissions, dispersal and transport in different media to predicted environmental concentrations on local landscape as well as scenarios for future analysis.
Ultimately SHEATHE will increase understanding of how information can be used in risk assessment and risk handling. It will also enhance capacity building at KNUST with 6 PhD’s to be jointly supervised by University of Argus and KNUST. Research will be disseminated through local media and journals.
In her presentation, Lily Lisa Yevugah, a PhD student, noted that heavy metals namely cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, manganese, chromium, nickel, copper and zinc are rated among the most dangerous group of environmental pollutants.
Citing the 2013 and 2005 UNEP report, Ms. Yevugah continued that 650-1000 tons of mercury were released annually, and 20-50 million tons of e-waste were generated yearly and Ghana was one of the destinations for dumping and recycling. Ghana receives about 2150 tons of e-waste. She explained that heavy metals, being non-degradable, posed a serious risk to human health and the ecosystem. Though some work had been done on them to some extent, there was the need to know the extent of contamination and to provide knowledge on their dispersal and effects on the soil and air. This is what she is studying in her PhD thesis entitled,”Spatial Mapping and Modelling of Heavy Metals and Xenobiotics in Ghana”.
In her presentation on “Community-Based Risk Assessment of Artisanal Small-scale Mining in Ghana”, Rejoice Wireko-Gyebi, a PhD student, said ASM was an important economic activity in over 55 developing countries, with several economic actors such as concession owners, mine operators, miners, dealers, buying agents and equipment owners. Mrs. Wireko-Gyebi stated further that in spite of the economic benefits, miners adopt unsafe mining practices which lead to environmental degradation and health risks.
This according to her calls for serious attention and measures. This makes her study timely as most ASM workers and the communities are exposed to mercury, arsenic and cadmium. Exposure to these chemicals can cause respiratory problems such as chest pains, dyspnea, cough, hemotytis, impairment of pulmonary function, pneumonitis, cancer and damage to the central nervous system. Beside these health risks, it also comes with environmental pollution and land degradation. She hoped that the research would help create more awareness of the dangers of ASM and urgent measures put in place to find solutions to the challenges.
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. The project includes high resolution data from drone-borne sensors and remote sensing. The overall objective of the project is to contribute to a more sustainable management of natural resources, both in the extraction of raw materials such as gold and in the management of soil, water and air as natural resources by preventing and controlling pollution. The output will be used to assess existing and future effects on human health, ecosystems, and food production. The Social Science component will investigate access to information and knowledge in raising awareness, removing barriers for adaptation of better practices, and developing better risk handling strategies at the individual and community levels.