Mercury exposure is a public health concern to most residents living in galamsey areas in Ghana. Galamsey (Illegal small-scale mining) often involves the use of mercury to extract gold from its ore. Unfortunately, this practice releases significant amounts of mercury into the environment, leading to the contamination of water sources and soils.
Plants tend to pick up this mercury from our soil leading to the contamination of our food chains. Residents in these areas are at a high risk of accumulating mercury in their system through the consumption of foods cultivated from these soils, the inhalation of mercury vapours, ingesting contaminated water and fish, absorption of mercury through the skin etc.
Several studies have linked various health issues, including kidney failures, to the prolonged exposure of mercury. Mercury accumulates in the body over time, particularly in the kidneys, impairing their function and potentially leading to renal complications. Kidneys play a critical role in filtering waste from the bloodstream, and exposure to mercury can damage this delicate structure.
Other studies have also established the correlation between elevated mercury levels in the body and an increased risk of kidney dysfunction. The toxic effects of mercury on the kidneys can disrupt their ability to regulate fluid and electrolyte balance, leading to impaired filtration and waste elimination. However, can the increased number of kidney failures be attributed to the rise in galamsey activities in our country?.
Well, preliminary findings from one of the four major teaching hospitals in the country have revealed that eight out of every 10 kidney patients (acute and chronic) come from galamsey communities. The past decades in Ghana have seen low recordings of kidney cases which may be due to the low participation in illegal mining activities (galamsey).
Since we know the diagnosis (galamsey), how do we cure (control) it? Addressing this issue requires multifaceted efforts, including strict regulations on illegal mining, better waste management practices and increased awareness among the affected communities about the risks of mercury exposure.
Additionally, healthcare interventions should focus on early detection and management of kidney problems in individuals living in galamsey areas. In conclusion, mercury exposure due to illegal mining activities poses a significant health risk to residents, particularly regarding kidney failure. Mitigating this problem necessitates a combination of environmental regulations, community education and healthcare measures to protect the well-being of the affected population.
Let’s advocate against this menace.
Don’t say it is far from you, you might be consuming from the food chain
Consultant Toxicologist from FIND-GH (Forensic Investigation for National Development-Ghana)
Lecturer ( Pharmatrust Professional College)