Project 594 - Impact of Mining on the Environment in Africa

© IGCP 594

A large amount of information about the contamination of mining sites in different parts of the world has been gathered by carrying out systematic geochemical sampling and analysis. This has led to an improved understanding of the causes and effects, and has provided an impetus for new environmental legislation and strategies for remediation in many developed countries. In Africa, because of economic pressures and slower evolution of environmental awareness, local communities have been particularly exposed to the detrimental effects of mining contamination on public health, agriculture and the environment. During the last twenty years, environmental experts and organizations from Europe, Australia and North America increasingly co-operated with their counterparts in Africa on a number of projects in different countries. However, these geochemical investigations tended to be focused on the impacts of mining and mineral processing at a national level and in specific mining fields without taking account of the overall impact on larger hydrological and environmental domains across the continent. In environmental matters, trans-boundary cooperation and liaison between the African governments and institutions is limited. Consequently, there is a wide opportunity for sharing the knowledge of monitoring methods and for developing a common approach to the management and interpretation of geochemical data. With such approach, natural anomalies can be assessed in relation to those caused by mining and related industrial activity, taking into account the geology, topography, climate, vegetation and hydrology in different regions of Africa. For many of these regions, basic information required distinguishes between natural and anthropogenic sources of metals in waters, soils and vegetation is sparse or completely lacking. Environmental baselines to enable an assessment of the degree of contamination of soils and agricultural crops by heavy metals have not been established in the majority of African countries. Therefore, the proposed project is designed (1) to correlate and integrate the results of multidisciplinary studies performed in contaminated areas using the best contemporary procedures for statistical analysis, management and compilation of geochemical data; (2) to strengthen the capacity of African institutions in environmental geochemistry by cooperation with foreign experts and organizations, (3) to raise public awareness about impacts of mining on the environment and human health and, (4) to facilitate cooperation among geoscientists and medical scientists.

The proposal for a new IGCP Project includes several interdependent and overlapping topics covering a range of environmental-geochemical studies in abandoned and active mining districts of Africa:

  • Soil and surface contamination by metals and gaseous emissions in mining and ore processing areas
  • Response of plants to heavy metal stress and bioremediation
  • Contamination of wetlands, surface and ground waters
  • Modeling of dispersion of dust and gaseous emissions from mining operations and smelters
  • Geochemical modeling of the pollutant cycle in contaminated areas
  • Standardization of procedures for the management and interpretation of geochemical data
  • Evaluation of potential links between contamination and health in mining districts
  • Training of African experts in environmental monitoring and assessment of the impact of mining on the environment and human health
  • Rising of environmental awareness, particularly in small-scale and artisanal mining areas

The results of the proposed project should contribute to improve capacity building in environmental monitoring, to assess the extent of contamination in specific regions, to raise environmental awareness among local population and to improve or amend environmental legislation in African countries. The project results can also be used in land use planning, in establishing priorities in remediation activities, in the selection of the best available remediation technologies and in mitigation of environmental dangers in contaminated regions.

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