This study was carried out to investigate the effect of illegal small-scale gold mining ("Galamsey") operations on the water quality of the Akantansu and Sintim rivers in the Asutifi North District of the Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana. Water samples were collected from the two rivers for physico-chemical and heavy metal analyses. Levels of physico-chemical parameters were determined by standard methods while heavy metals were by Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS). Results show that, generally, higher values were recorded at downstream locations for most of the phyisco-chemical parameters studied. Mean values for temperature, pH, conductivity, TDS and TSS were within the WHO recommended guideline values for drinking water. However, samples from the rivers were found to be very turbid (> 5 NTU) and consequently coloured (> 20 TCU). Dissolved oxygen decreased at the downstream sampling locations and the mean values were generally slightly below the 5 mg/l recommended by the WHO. Mean levels of copper, arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury were generally higher downstream of the rivers, but were lower than the WHO acceptable limits. However, levels of iron were above the WHO acceptable limits, with very high values being recorded downstream of the rivers. The general trend in the levels of the parameters studied suggests influence from the small-scale gold mining activities along the banks of the two rivers.

Water is one of the most essential constituents of the human environment. The water resources generate development in socio-economic issues crucial to the society in general and more specifically for industries, agricultural activities and for the public use.

The Hungarian Nobel prize winner Albert Szert-Gyargyi once said, “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” if the water resources are contaminated, so is life. Providing clean drinking water for the growing population of the world is one of the most pressing issues we stand against in the 21st century. Both anthropogenic and natural processes can affect the water quality. Except from the metals man has created through nuclear reactions, the rest has been on Earth since the planet was formed. There are few examples of local metal pollutions through natural weathering but in most cases metals become an environmental health issue because of anthropogenic activity. Mainly, mining and smelting plant release metals from the bedrock (Walker and Sibly, 2001).

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is an essential approach to water resources within the catchment. There are different activities (such as mining) that occur within a catchment that use and affect water resources. The impacts of mining activities for instance, can create problems for ecosystems functioning.

Comprising of about 70% of the surface of the Earth, water is the most valuable natural resource existing on our planet. Without this invaluable compound, life on the earth would not exist. Although this fact is widely recognized, pollution of water resources is a common problem being faced today. Heavy metal pollution occurs directly by effluent outfalls from industries, refineries and waste treatment plants and indirectly by the contaminants that enter the water supply from soils/groundwater systems and from the atmosphere via rain water (Vijayaraghavan and Yun, 2008). Modern industry is, to a large degree, responsible for contamination of the environment. Lakes, rivers and oceans are being overwhelmed with many toxic contaminants. Among toxic substances reaching hazardous levels are heavy metals (Vieira and Volesky, 2000). Heavy metals are the group of contaminants of concern, which come under the inorganic division. Some metal ions such as mercury are very toxic even in concentrations as low as 0.001 mg/l. Under certain environmental conditions, metals may accumulate to toxic levels and cause ecological damage (Jefferies and Firestone, 1984). Of the important metals, mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and chromium (iv) are regarded as toxic, whereas, others such as copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc are not as toxic, but their extensive usage and increasing levels in the environment are of serious concern (Brown and Absanullah, 1971; Moore, 1990; Volesky; 1990). Various techniques have been employed for the treatment of metal bearing industrial effluents, which usually include precipitation, adsorption, ion exchange, membrane and electrochemical technologies but these techniques are expensive, not environment friendly and usually independent on the concentration of the waste which are ineffective in very diluted solution.

Physical parameters such as pH, temperature and conductivity influence the concentration of many pollutants by altering their availability and toxicity. The temperatures at which environmental samples are collected and of which physicochemical measurements are made are important for data correlation and interpretation (Tay et al., 2009). Also, at high temperatures the toxicity of many substances may be increased. In addition to microbial activities, within an aquatic medium, temperatures and pH are two important parameters that govern the methylation of elements such as Lead and mercury (Von Loon, 1982). The electrical conductivity (EC) is also useful indicator of mineralization in a water body which has a correlation with the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in the water body.

In several mining communities in Ghana, groundwater has become the drinking water source of choice due to extensive contamination of surface water by mining activities particularly small scale illegal mining (Armah et al., 2011; Armah et al., 2010).

With the discovery and the eventual extraction of gold in the area by Newmont Ghana Gold Limited, the activities of galamsey operators have increased in the area. It is their activities on the quality of surface water including the Akantansu and Sintim Rivers in the Asutifi district that serves as the basis of this research.

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Item Type: Ghanaian Topic  |  Size: 67 pages  |  Chapters: 1-5
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