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The environmental impact of small-scale gold mining in Ghana: identifying problems and possible solutions

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This paper examines the environmental impacts of small-scale gold mining in Ghana, and prescribes a series of recommendations for improving environmental performance in the industry. Since the enactment of the Small Scale Gold Mining Law in 1989, which effectively legalized small-scale gold mining in the country, industrial operations, collectively, have made important contributions to national gold output, foreign exchange earnings and employment. Accompanying this pattern of socio-economic growth, however, have been increased environmental complications – namely, mercury pollution and land degradation. The Ghanaian Minerals Commission has been burdened with most of the jurisdictional responsibilities related to small-scale mining, but with a staff of only 35–40 people working with a pool of highly obsolete research resources, it is clearly incapable of facilitating sufficient environmental improvement on its own. It is concluded that marked environmental improvements can only be achieved if: (1) assistance is provided to the Minerals Commission from local governmental bodies and academic units; (2) industry-specific environmental management tools and strategies are designed and implemented; (3) concerted effort is made to prospect for deposits suitable for small-scale gold mining, a key to preventing unnecessary exploration; and (4) a nation-wide industrial mercury study is commissioned, and a mercury retorting programme is implemented.

Keywords: Cleaner Production; Ghana; environmental impacts; mercury; small-scale gold mining

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Environmental Policy and Management Group (EPMG), Imperial College Centre for Environmental Technology, Royal School of Mines

Publication date: March 1, 2002


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