Does mercury emission from small-scale gold mining cause widespread soil pollution in Ghana?

Lily Lisa Yevugah, Godfred Darko, Jesper Bak*

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

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    The use of mercury in small-scale gold mining is globally the largest anthropogenic source of mercury in the environment. In countries like Ghana, where small-scale gold mining is a highly important economic sector, the activity is also expected to cause local pollution. This study is based on a hypothesis that the mining activity in Ghana is causing more widespread soil pollution also outside active mining sites, and that the main part of regional differences in soil concentrations of mercury might come from pollution. Little systematic and dependable data has been collected to assess the extent of mercury contamination of soils in areas outside active mining areas. The regional aspect of mercury pollution from mining has not been studied in Ghana or other countries with a large small-scale gold mining sector. Systematic collection of soil samples on a 25 × 25 km2 net covering the entire country was carried out to ensure the representativeness of data and to allow calculation of spatial trends. The soil concentrations found in one-third of the country, where most intensive mining takes place, are three times higher than concentrations in the rest of the country. This difference cannot be explained by sources of natural variation in mercury concentrations but can be explained by decades of atmospheric deposition. It is therefore likely that the mining activity has caused a more widespread increase in soil concentrations, also outside active mining sites. The mercury concentrations found are on average 0.024 mg kg−1, which is low compared to published studies from other countries and regions and estimated world averages. All measured concentrations are well below soil quality criteria for human health. The build-up of soil concentrations in the mining area is still problematic because mercury is a hazardous substance in the environment.

    TidsskriftEnvironmental Pollution
    Antal sider10
    StatusUdgivet - sep. 2021


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