Ghana Gold Mine Spills into River Polluted in 2001

By Emmanuel Kojo Kwarteng

TARKWA, Ghana, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - A river and communities poisoned by a cyanide spill from a gold mine in 2001 may have been hit by another spill from the same mining company. Water from an abandoned underground mine within the mining concession of Goldfields Ghana Ltd. has seeped into the Asuman River in the Wassa West District of the Western Region, sparking fears of contamination and a worsening health situation for area communities.

Area residents, chiefs and opinion leaders say the water, which they suspect is contamined, has filled the mine shaft and flooded the Asuman River, a source of drinking water for the people of Abekoase and surrounding communities.

As a result, the people of Abekoase have stopped fetching water from the river following the suspected contamination of the river and the October 2001 cyanide spillage in the area. At that time, virtually all life forms in the river and its tributaries were killed. Scientists fear the cyanide and heavy metal residue from that spill could remain for decades posing a health and environmental threat to the people and wildlife in the area.

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Containment pond for mine waste in Wassa West district (Photo courtesy Jamie Kneen/Mining Watch)
In separate interviews, the managing director of Goldfields Ghana Ltd., Richard Graeme; the executive director of a local nongovernmental organization, the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining Activities (WACAM), Daniel Owusu-Koranteng; and the chief of Abekoase, Nana Molobah, all confirmed that the water seepage has occurred.

The chief contends that their plight has been compounded by the non-provision of water through an alternative source - a borehole constructed by Goldfields Ghana Ltd. in October 2002.

The communities have called for immediate steps to assess the health implications of the incident.

Graeme said the company recognized the problem 10 days ago and has reported the incident to the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chief Inspector of Mines.

He said the water has been tested at the company's laboratories which established that it was not contaminated. He said SGS, a private laboratory has also been asked to conduct independent analysis.

On the drying up of wells and the lack of a clean water supply to Abekoase and other communities, Graeme said that the company has mobilized resources to deepen the wells to mitigate the plight of the people.

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Map of Africa showing Ghana (Map credit unknown)
WACAM's Owusu-Koranteng urged the firm to quickly provide potable water to the affected communities.

Minister of Science and Environment Professor Dominic Fobih admitted in an interview that he has no knowledge of the situation. He said he plans to consult the Environmental Protection Agency and other relevant institutions to ascertain the facts.

In a letter dated January 9, 2003, J.A. Allotey, acting executive director of the Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed that there has been a case of seepage of underground water through a ventilation shaft at Goldfields Ghana Ltd. in Tarkwa.

Allotey said initial water quality analysis conducted indicates that the seepage water is not contaminated and has not affected the quality of the Asuman River. He said the situation is being monitored and promised to inform the public of any developments.

Goldfields Ltd. was formed in 1998 from the merger between the gold assests of two other companies. Apart from the Tarkwa gold mine in Ghana, all of Goldfields' gold mining activities are located in South Africa.