The Readers’ Hub brings to you another most insightful and intellectually intuitive encounter from our Social Media Monk session as we engage one of our ardent readers; indeed, a voluble devotee of books with vast and demonstrable experience in both the field of academia and the mining sector to take us through the compendium of environmental effects of mining and its impact on the health of the mine worker.
Our guest for tonight’s Social Media Monk started his basic education from Tumu and continued upper primary at Dan Ibu Int. School in WA. He also had his secondary education at T.I. Ahmadiyya Secondary school in Kumasi. He read Biological Science in KNUST for both his undergraduate and MPHIL. He also had a postgraduate diploma in education at UEW Mampong campus. After his national service as a T.A. at the Department of Clinical Microbiology at KNUST, he got started as a Biology tutor at T.I. Ahmadiyya Girls’ SHS, Asokore for 8 years. He moved to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Education Unit regional office in Kumasi as Assistant Director in charge of supervision. He is presently in his final year as an LL. B student at KNUST.He is also currently in his 2nd year doing his PHD at the University of Energy Natural Resources (UENR) in Environmental Engineering Management.
With the help of one of our Moderators Bassing Kamal, sitting in for our regular host, Dr Hakeem Tahiru Balubie (Dr Tilapia); our guest will take us through the topic held supra to help us unravel a lot of issues including but not limited to the degree of the impact of mine waste on the environment, possible ways by which our mine wastes can be turned into useful resources and the effects of mining on the health of the mine worker.
Ladies and Gentlemen, sit still and enjoy this most informative, insightful and thrilling encounter with The Readers Hub (Social Media Monk) session.
Bassing: Please help me welcome our guest for tonight’s session; Mr. Bipuah Hanif (Bips) to the Readers’ Hub Social Media Monk. Sir, you are most welcome
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Thanks sir and thanks again for the heavy-duty introduction
Bassing: You deserve it Sir!
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: I salute you sir!
Bassing: In what way (s) is small-scale mining different from illegal mining, popularly referred to in the local parlance as Galamsey?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Thanks for the question sir. Small scale mining is allowed under our mining laws as a country. A mining company is determined as small scale due to the low magnitude of its operations. Over the years, many small-scale mining operatives tend to indulge in mining practices that have been proscribed by our mining and environmental laws. Examples of these practices include alluvial mining (dredging of the river bed for precious minerals), unregulated use of chemicals (e.g. is mercury) for metal extraction from the ore, etc.
A small-scale miner is not illegal if he is a Ghanaian citizen and abides by the regulations governing their operations. But any illegal activities by a small-scale miner bring him under the umbrella of ‘galamsey’.
Bassing: Interesting perspective! But going forward Sir! What is the degree of the impact of mine waste on the environment?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: The question of the degree of impact of mine waste on the environment is probably most difficult to estimate. It’s so enormous and complex; hence I will explain just a few dimensions and leave it to our individual judgments.
That notwithstanding, it is tempting to say the first and most obvious impact on the environment is the health effects on humans who are part of the environment.
The next environmental impact to look at is the effects on aquatic life. Many water organisms feed on and respire in polluted rivers and streams in which mine waste is either released into, or galamsey miners do alluvial mining on the river beds.
A study in our coastal waters around Takoradi shows that the fish species used for the delicacy locally called ‘kako’ (rotten fish) contains high levels of some poisonous heavy metals. It really scared me upon learning this.
Many species of water-based organisms are eliminated by even mere cloudiness (turbidity) of water due to the dredging activities of galamsey miners on river beds.
Apart from the loss of aquatic biodiversity which is against ‘animal rights’ we risk losing all the other functions of the water ecosystem to the rest of the environment.
Another environmental impact relates to the effect on terrestrial plants and soil organisms. Research now suggests that many plants are capable of accumulating heavy metals into roots, vegetative tissues and even fruits. For instance, many studies in Ghana show that many of our preferred food crops and vegetables accumulate heavy metals and end up on our dining tables.
The last one of the environmental impacts I will mention for now is the leaching of heavy metals into drinking water sources. Rivers and streams have already been mentioned, but even underground water sources like boreholes are not an exception.
There are reports of contaminated borehole water in communities around tailings impoundments due to engineering failures. Because of this possibility, the mines are usually expected to monitor underground Wells constructed around tailings dams to pick up early warning signs.
So, without going further to explain the potential impact on crop development and yield and the concomitant effect on agriculture and food security, one is able to appreciate how extensive the implications are when mining is not done properly. As for the degree of the impact, your judgment is as good as mine now.
Bassing: You just said “a study in our coastal waters around Takoradi shows that the fish species used for the delicacy locally called ‘kako’ (rotten fish) contains high levels of some poisonous heavy metals. It really scared me upon learning this.” So, does it mean all this while we have been eating poisonous fish?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Well, it means we may indeed be eating contaminated fish and many other foods sir. A very worrying scenario!
Bassing: So, based on your submissions: What are the various types of mine wastes and what do they mean to an ordinary person?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Very well. I will attempt to use fewer terminologies or at least simplify them as we go sir. Mine wastes are of many kinds; some of the usual ones include mine water, waste rock, tailings, slugs, mine dust etc. I will briefly describe a few of them for a clearer understanding:
a. Mine water includes the remains of water used in the entire mine process. In case of open pits, water that collects in the pits as a result of rains becomes mine waste water. Most of the mine water is released into the environment after some form of treatment where possible.
b. Waste rock refers to the overburden of the soil and rock that is ripped off until access to the useful grade of rock containing the mineral ore. The waste rock is mostly kept until mine decommissioning so that it is used for filling the pit.
c. Tailings are usually semi-solid slurry of the waste rock. It usually consists of water and crushed rock from which precious metals have been extracted. Tailings are usually managed by deposition into engineered impoundments called tailings storage facilities (aka tailings dams).
d. Mine dust includes dust resulting from rock blasts, movement of heavy-duty vehicles and machinery. It also includes fumes from smelting activities where a chemical like mercury is frequently used to extract pure metal from the ore.
To the ordinary person, some of these wastes may travel to your neighborhood through various media like rivers, wind, food etc. Sadly, it may not matter whether or not a person works or lives close to the mine. I believe some more explanation will clarify this issue as we discuss the issues further.
Bassing: Impressive submissions!!But going forward, Readers will like to know what impact does mining have on the health of the Mine Worker?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: This is another crucial question. The miner, who happens to share direct contact with most of the mine waste, is exposed to very hazardous substances. Galamsey operators are especially exposed more to mine wastes due to lack of occupational health safety systems. A miner is also exposed to heavy metal pollutants resulting from the crushing of rocks or the use of extraction agents. Some of these heavy metals include cadnium, lead, and chromium, zinc, iron and even gold. Other pollutants include arsenic, cyanide, etc.
Mercury is one of the chemicals used for extraction of precious metals from the mineral ore. Most of the miners tend to play careless with this dangerous chemical which eventually finds its way into their bodies through cuts on the skin or contaminated hands used to eat.
The smelting process also generates mercury fumes which causes lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
It’s important to mention at this point that heavy metals like those listed earlier are some of the most dangerous substances that cause all manner of cancer and non – cancer related diseases to human beings. Some of them (e.g. cadnium) are capable of poisoning a human being in very minute doses. However, even the relatively less hazardous ones like iron will bioaccumulate in very crucial body tissues until they reach unsustainable levels (1 or 2 mg/kg).
Some health conditions that arise from heavy metal pollution include nervous degeneration (affects memory and coordination of the body parts by the brain), organ failures (liver, lungs, kidney, heart, etc.), and poor metabolism (general biochemical functioning of the human system).
Heavy metals are mostly deleterious there by leading to early death or poor growth and development. These are some of the potential dangers a miner faces due to poor management of mine wastes.
Bassing: impressive! Social Media Monk is indeed insightful and intellectually engaging
Now talking about the health of the mine worker, Readers will like to know:
To what extend does the Minerals and Mining Act of 2006, (Act 703), as amended in 2010 and 2015 assured the safety of the mine worker?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Thanks for the question. The Minerals & Mining Act 2006 (Act 703) is basically a revision and consolidation of our laws relating to minerals and mining, and connected issues. It provides for the protection of the environment and our forests under Section 18. However, it has no express provisions dealing with safety of mine workers. The subsequent amendments equally do not bring much except to amend the royalties regime.
It’s useful to mention however that, issues of mine worker safety and employers liability towards the worker are dealt with under other legislations like the Labour Act and the Workmen’s compensation Act. In addition, the law on negligence can be used to guarantee the rights and protection of the mine worker.
Bassing: So, based on your submissions and in your research, what amendment (s) if any, would you recommend in the Minerals and Mining Act of 2006, (Act 703), as amended in 2010 and 2015?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: You have started throwing some law into my way now (lol).Well, If there’s any useful amendment necessary that would protect or improve the environment and health of miners, and the local people who live in the areas within the mine concession, it must concern the use of mineral royalties in a manner that would benefit them directly.
The mineral and mining policy should recognize the dangers mining pose on the people whose lands are used and provide for good sources of portable water, hospitals and other social amenities to ameliorate their suffering.
Bassing: Now let’s leave the area of the Law lectures on minerals and mining and move to the field. How do we manage our mine wastes given the effects it has on our health and the natural environment?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: In this country currently, mine waste management is of major concern. Firstly, we have failed to handle the galamsey menace and so all the waste therefrom are directly released into the environment without any attempt to manage them.
This is already enough proof of how widespread mine waste has become spanning the entire stretch of rivers and streams downstream into the sea.
For the large multinational mines, some good efforts are made in waste management. Nevertheless, many inactive mine pits and tailings dams remain hanging without decommissioning process to return these places to a state usable by the original owners of the land. As long as proper decommissioning is not done the potential of pollution by various media including the wind blowing mine dust all over the neighbouring communities remains a going concern. Also, mine water is hardly treated in this country. Water from some mine pits simply empty into surface water bodies without any pre-treatment. The processes and technologies for treatment or management of mine waste are very expensive and frequently result in low profits in the enterprise. For us to attract investment in the area, we have almost acquiesced our right to ensure high standards of environmental preservation for economic gains. This looks ok on our balance sheets for now, but it definitely is unsustainable.
Bassing: Reading from your submission: To what extend can we recycle or turn our mining wastes into useful resources?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: This is another important issue for environmental engineers in the field to deal with. To attempt at answering your question, mine waste can certainly be exploited in a manner or recycled so that it becomes beneficial.
New technologies are now used to re-mine tailings so that the waste tailings become a raw material. Phytomining is one of the green technologies where some plants which a capable of hyper accumulating (‘eating up’) metals into above ground parts for subsequent harvest and processing.
Waste slug and rocks are usually the main source of building material for building and road construction activities in and around the mines. Mine water is mostly used for construction activities and reducing dust on roads in and around the mines. Mine water is sometimes treated through advanced waste water treatment technologies and the used for domestic purposes afterwards. Mine rocks and overburden is usually used to fill mine pits during reclamation or decommissioning of mines.
Bassing: So, with regards to the environment and the activities of galamsey, is it safe to conclude that the big mining companies don’t cause havoc to the environment as compared to the illegal miners (Galamseyers)?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: It’s quite tricky to point decisively to the more impactful of the two on the environment. I will however make few propositions. It’s safe to say that the galamsey form of mining results in higher environmental and health risks due a number of reasons.
- Galamsey mostly happens in water bodies and the waste is also released directly into same. This makes it easier and quicker to spread mine waste from point of generation to all parts of the environment.
- The large multinational mines are usually easily monitored by the EPA to ensure standards are followed.
- Large scale mines usually have the financial wherewithal to undertake waste management and the use of modern technology to reduce the hazardous effect of mine wastes.
- Large scale mines usually have a reputation to protect due to their multinational nature and a need to remain appealing internationally. Due to this, they invest in greener technology which reduces waste.
A case can be made however that when the large companies fail in their environmental protection standards the impact is usually monumental and acute.
Bassing: Interesting perspective! Now going forward: Is there any legislative framework (policy) governing mining in Ghana and to what extent, if any, has it catered for proper disposal of mining wastes?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Yes, indeed there’s a raft of laws scattered in various legislations that are intended to manage the situation.
Our current minerals and mining policy of 2013 mandates the EPA to enact regulations requiring mining companies to pays a refundable deposit to the State (reclamation bond), an amount of money estimated to be enough to rehabilitate the mine concession should the company fail to follow through with their decommissioning plan.
So, before the mining permit is giving by the EPA this serves as surety that compels the mining companies to deal with all the long-lasting waste (e.g. is mine tailings) they generate during the life if the mine in an environmentally sustainable manner before recovering their initial deposit.
Am told the deposit runs into tens or hundreds of million $ depending on the nature and size of concessions. The question that arises is whether our EPA even gets a good deal for us and also if the decommissioning is done in good time to reduce risk exposure.
I am not unaware that some mines have left their pits and tailings dams inactive for years without efforts to decommission. This is very risky but our regulators seem to drag their feet in enforcement either due to lack of capacity or because promises of future operations in these places.
I must also state that the amount to be deposited is determined by Environmental impact assessments (EIA) which by our current EPA regulations are carried out by the company applying for permit. What then is the guarantee that the EIA is done to reflect the true potential impact (which determines the amount to be paid). Needless to state that galamsey operators don’t abide by any regulations that would ensure mine waste is managed properly.
Bassing: This brings us to a very interesting practical scenario: In recent times Government had to take stringent actions against galamsey operators by declaring their activities as illegal. Indeed, media reports have shown that most galamsey enclaves were dismantled. We were shocked to see that galamsey activities with its resultant destruction of our vegetation cover are largely spearheaded by Chinese nationals. How porous is our policy implementation regime given the wanton dissipation of our land by nationals of other sovereign nations?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: This issue is a bit dicey to deal with due to the poverty levels of our people who find a living in galamsey. As a people, we have put together a fantastic mining policy which attained cabinet approval for implementation since sometime 2013.However, the average Ghanaian hardly abides by any regulations that would challenge us for greater heights. In this regard, the attraction to outrageous profits makes us sidestep our laws which are necessary for environmental protection.
In addition to this, we have chosen the decentralized system of governance but the politicians still find a way to starve the agencies and institutions at the local level which are mandated to implement policy and enforce regulations. This creates a disjointed approach to environmental protection activities due to the alienation of the local people from participating in policy implementation.
The phenomenon of Chinese and other foreigners engaging in galamsey is simply due to weak political will to eliminate them. Our governments benefit from so much aid and we forget that we cannot turn around to enforce our laws to the latter against our grantors. There are many angles to this matter so will leave it at this for now.
Bassing: That notwithstanding: In your honest opinion, do you think both past and prevent governments fight against galamsey has been effective?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: Certainly not sir. Judging from the evidence on the ground we can easily conclude that not enough progress has been made in the might. The political will has not been enough as the government is unable to come up against their own people who engage in this illegal enterprise
Bassing: Now Readers may want to find out from you: Would you be comfortable to say that the activities of illegal miners (galamsey) in Ghana is a national security threat, and what are some of the reverberations going into the future if this is not stopped?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: I strongly feel it is indeed a great threat to national security. We have exchanged the health and safety of our people for economic gains. I have always reflected on the long-term effects of these poisonous substances to the population and it is scary. A research done in 2015 (the author escapes my mind now), indicated that the incidence of cancer diseases has been on the increase in Ghana. If we are not careful, we will be plagued with all manner of conditions which become heritable down the line and that increase the rate of morbidity and consequently mortality of our population. Truth be told. The prospects are scary, but our leaders don’t think of that now.
Bassing: In your research, would you say Ghana is making good use of its mineral resources?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: This is probably the most difficult question but easier to answer, I think. No, I would suggest. It’s obvious our mineral resources have been very crucial in propping up the revenue side of our national budget. However, as long as we are not able as a country to account for the specific uses our mineral revenues have been put to, we can’t be confident in saying they were put to good use.
The extent to which corruption drains our nation makes it necessary for our mineral resources to be managed with proper legislations so that it is used in a way that the next generation can point to the specific benefits. This is what I would say for now on the matter
Bassing: Impressive! We may now take some questions from our Readers.
QUESTIONS TIME WITH OUR READERS FROM (THE READERS’ HUB)
Nana Boaponsem: My question will be on:
a. How do mine companies measure the effects of their activities on the health of workers and community members?
b. After their health assessment, how do they compensate?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: As regards the first leg of the question; the big mines have well established environmental departments which monitor various soils, water and other media around their concessions. When the levels of heavy metals are high, they institute some engineering corrections to remedy.
For the mine workers however, their medical reports indicate their health status before employment and when there is a significant change in their condition that can be directly traced to their work place hazards, compensations are given to them. The problem however is that the mine companies are not transparent to the local people so when there’s any environmental pollution it goes away without notice.
Now in response to the second leg of the question; compensation is paid when there’s adequate evidence linking a health condition to the job of the miner
Saaka Waheed: I want to know generally if mining has impacted on our lives more positively as a country. If no, why? And what are your recommendations for us to benefit from this natural resource to help develop our Nation?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: My answer will certainly be subjective. But I will say no. We have had our minerals mined for over a century yet we have nothing specific to point to as a legacy that our grandchildren will be proud of. Like I said earlier, there’s no doubt our mineral revenues have helped the national budget, but what is the percentage of these revenues that remain in our economy? I would recommend that specific legislations should be laid out detailing the particular places of our national development we should channel our mineral resources so that we can hold leaders accountable.
Barnabas: Big brother thanks once again, for this crucial discourse, especially, in our part of the world. And many thanks to your esteemed Guest, for making time to take us through this discourse gratis.
Now, to my question; First of all, let me state unequivocally that, i revere and uphold all the ethos of this platform, especially, this platform abhorrence to politics, but i am tempted to ask this question about his views on the Agyapa Deal formed by government to bring all our Minerals/Gold Royalties together to benefit who, i do not know.
But does he consider the Agyapa Deal a good project, and how much benefit does this Deal offer the miners?
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: This Agyapa ‘animal’ has appeared here. Thanks though for the question.
In my position I am unable to pronounce on the propriety or otherwise of the financial model and the choice of method to put together our mineral royalties for the ‘so called’ national interest.
What I can say however is that, assuming there’s transparency in the whole deal it may just be what we need.
The reason is that, mineral royalty will no more go directly into the consolidated fund where it is swallowed into the mix of revenues. It appears to me that subsequent legislations are going to be put together to direct t where the resources are going to be channeled. If this is done, I could for instance have quoted how much mineral revenues we have made over the years and what it was used for. For the miners and the locals, we ought to make our voices heard so that their welfare is considered in allotment of the resources.
Bassing: Indeed, it is getting more interesting and exciting. Unfortunately, we have to allow our guest to rest for the day. He must be tired!
The Readers’ Hub is highly indebted to you with gratitude for finding time out of your busy schedule to interact and share with us your deep-seated knowledge on this very important topic.
It was an awesome discussion and we are most grateful. May the good Lord shower his grace upon you in all your life endeavors.
Mr. Bipuah Hanif: I am profoundly grateful for having me discuss my area of learning on this respectable platform. I was initially ‘scared’ to accept the invitation to this session considering the standard of my senior colleagues who presented in the past. But am honoured that I finished incident free. Thanks once again for all the questions.
Bassing: Readers, all too soon we have come to the end of yet another interactive, insightful and intellectually engaging segment of our Social Media Monk session. We are most grateful to all those who find time to interact and asked questions where necessary
I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Readers have picked some useful information out of the interaction on the thematic concern stated supra
Until we meet same time with another interactive segment of the Social Media Monk session next week, do have a fruitful weekend and a restful night.
NB: Please don’t forget to share after reading for others to also benefit.
Hub Editor: Bassing. A.M.A. Kamal.
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