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Human exposure to mercury in the atmosphere and soils in Konongo: an age-old mining centre in the Ashanti Region of Ghana


The dramatic upsurge of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) activities in Ghana has resulted in environmental degradation, water pollution and human exposure to mercury—the main hazardous element used in gold extraction. This study evaluated the degree of human exposure to mercury based on the concentrations found in the air and soil samples taken at a resolution of 1 km2 across Konongo, a historic mining town in Ghana's Ashanti Region. The highest atmospheric mercury concentration was 193 ng/m3, which is much higher than the levels the European Union and Japan allowed, which are 10 ng/m3 and 40 ng/m3, respectively. The concentration in the soil was 3.6 mg Hg/kg, which is around ten times higher than the background concentration in nature. Additionally, the soil concentrations were higher above the worrisome levels of soil contamination in agricultural land (4 mg/kg) and industrial areas (16 mg/kg), respectively. Soils are extremely contaminated with mercury at sites artisanal mining activities take place. The concentrations of mercury in the air and soils were significantly higher (p < 0.5) at locations of prominent mining activities compared to areas not close to mining sites. The inhabitants of the Konongo community are therefore exposed to mercury, most likely emitted from artisanal mining activities. A non-carcinogenic risk is posed to the people by inhaling mercury vapour through the air and vapourisation from the soil. Children are exposed to a higher risk than adults as they receive higher daily doses of mercury than adults.

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All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article.


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This work was supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), through the SHEATHE Project ( [DFC file number 16-P03-GHA, 2016].

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Authors and Affiliations



The study was conceptualised and designed by GD, LSB, EAC, OG and EA. Samples/material collection and preparation were conducted by EAC, BCN, SAA, JBO, OG, EA and GD. Sample analysis, data collection and statistical analysis were performed by KAA, DDW, LSB, and GD. The first draft of the manuscript was written by GD, and all the authors read and commented on previous versions of the manuscript and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Godfred Darko.

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Coker, E.A., Nkuah, B.C., Amoanimaah, S.A. et al. Human exposure to mercury in the atmosphere and soils in Konongo: an age-old mining centre in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Environ Geochem Health (2022).

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  • Artisanal mining
  • Environmental pollution
  • Gold extraction
  • Mercury
  • Human health risk