The Nuclear Chemistry and Environmental Research Centre (NCERC) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) has warned that the country’s groundwater reserves risk being contaminated if pragmatic steps are not taken to regulate illegal gold mining activities across the mining regions.

This was disclosed in an interview by The Manager of NCERC Dr. Samuel Afful. According to him, the constant pollution of surface water bodies by illegal mining activities may also lead to groundwater pollution

The NCERC conducts environmental research which focuses on groundwater/surface water quality monitoring, soil and air quality monitoring, pesticide residue in food and other biological samples, as well as environmental remediation. The Centre employs nuclear techniques such as stable isotope hydrology and atomic absorption spectroscopy in its work.

Contaminated Water bodies by illegal mining

Surface water and groundwater interaction

According to Dr. Afful, Surface water and groundwater interaction is a natural process where nearly all surface-water features (rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and estuaries) sink deep into the soil layers to interact with groundwater.

He said, in most  situations, surface-water bodies gain water and solutes from groundwater systems and in others the surface-water body is a source of groundwater recharge that leads to a change in groundwater quality.

Dr. Afful stressed that the diversion of water courses for mining activities may affect groundwater recharge. He further stated that overdependence on groundwater for household or commercial use due to diversion/pollution of surface water may lead to groundwater depletion. This results in existing wells and boreholes running dry.

Considering these facts, effective land and water management requires a clear understanding of the linkages between groundwater and surface water as it applies to any given hydrologic setting. He added.

Effects

“Undeniably, several health, social, and economic effects have been linked to gold mining activities that lack proper regulation. The common challenge known to everyone is the pollution of surface water (river bodies) and the environment.”  He indicated that, there is more to it than pollution of river bodies.

This he said has affected aquatic creatures (Fishes) and hampered agricultural activities in the affected regions.

Throwing light on other areas that has severely affected humanity as a result; he mentioned some widely-known social vices such as teenage pregnancy, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) and the ill-reputed school dropout syndrome as a menace that cannot be left out.

Stressing on the main point, he explained that, the groundwater is also polluted by the already contaminated “surface water” in the process of recharging.

Expressing worry at the situation, the Manager of NCERC hinted that, boreholes that become an alternative water source for mining communities are most likely to be exposed to toxic substances.  The rippling effect to humanity according to him is damaging since some sachet water (pure water) producing companies mainly resort to groundwater for their water production and is subsequently sold to unsuspecting consumers across country.

Dr. Afful lamented that, the common water treatment method used by the sachet and bottled water industry in Ghana is filtration. According to him, this method does not take out the heavy metal contaminants in the water.

He called for proper scientific treatment of surface and groundwater in the mining regions and non-mining regions that resort to the use of chemicals in fishing.

Remediation

“The next generation has nothing to live on if proper water treatment method and effective remediation procedure is not used to reclaim mined areas”. He lamented

He said, GAEC has the capacity to carry out water quality monitoring and treatment.

Speaking on land reclamation prospects. Dr. AfFul is of the view that, proper remediation procedure is required to restore the fertility of the land in order to support plant growth.  

Giving some recommendations on way forward, he advised that, Sunflower and Acacia plants are grown on mined concessions to help remove toxic materials from the soil. This he said will help the land to regain its fertility for agriculture purposes.