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Water Research Institute initiates moves to end prenatal deaths caused by mercury pollution

Water Research Institute
Director of the Water Research Institute of CSIR, Prof. Mike Yaw Osei-Atweneboana speaking at the event.

By Jonathan Thompson

Studies by scientists have revealed that the health effects of illegal mining, also known as galamsey, on Ghanaians living in mining areas are becoming more damaging to pregnant women and new-born babies.

The chemicals and metals used in these mining activities such as mercury, lead and arsenic pollute water bodies, the soil and even the air, which have been harmful to the health of residents in galamsey communities.

According to the studies done in the Western, Eastern, Ashanti, Western North, Central and Ahafo Regions, mercury pollution has significantly caused the deaths of pregnant women and their babies in these areas. A Pathologist and Lecturer at School of Medicine and Dentistry, KNUST, Prof. Dr Paul Poku Sampene Osei, said autopsy he did on eight (8) mothers in the regions under study, who died with their babies while in labour, showed high concentration of mercury in their bodies.

He said mercury toxicity in the mother can easily be passed on to the baby even before it is born which can cause permanent physical deformity, brain damage, or death.

Some women engaged in galamsey

These facts came up at the launch of a research project known as the Prenatal Mercury Mitigation Project in Accra. The project is aimed at studying the health effects of chemicals used in the illegal mining process and in turn, finding an antidote to correct the health damages these chemicals cause to the human body.

The project is not only meant to study the damaging health effects of mercury, lead and other harmful chemicals to residents in illegal mining communities, but also do further research on a potential antidote known as Selenium to reverse the toxicity of these harmful chemicals in the human body.

Human exposure to mercury and other harmful chemicals are said to cause brain damage, kidney diseases, insomnia, breakdown of digestive and immune systems among others. However, selenium is a supplement that can reduce mercury toxicity in the body and save lives.

Mercury being used to purify gold

These facts underline the urgent need for funding for the project which is seen as the best solution to the health crisis caused by illegal mining in the country. The Director of the Water Research Institute of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, Prof. Mike Yaw Osei-Atweneboana said the Mercury Mitigation Project, which is projected to take 6 months, will be finalized and laid before parliament to implement a policy outlining the guided use of the selenium supplements as an antidote to high mercury concentration in the human body.

A Chief Director at the Ministry of Environment, Science and Innovation, Dr. Patrick Nomo said the initiative calls for all stakeholders to put shoulders to the wheel in making the outcome of the study a successful reality.

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