High pollution at Tanzania gold mines

Victoria Buhanza

Tanzania is the third largest producer of gold in Africa after South Africa and Ghana and is also well known for the Tanzanite gemstones. Major gold mines in Tanzania include North Mara, Buzwagi, Tulawaka, Bulyanhulu, Geita, and Golden Pride. There has been an outcry from the communities around these mines of environmental degradation as a result of mining activities.

In 2009, independent experts conducted investigations in North Mara and Geita area which revealed a high percentage of arsenic and heavy metals. This confirms the presence of high levels of toxic chemicals in the area surrounding Barrick Gold Corp’s North Mara gold mine in Tarime District, Mara Region.

Researchers established that there are significantly high levels of poisonous heavy metals and cyanide in the environment around the mine. The researchers were Dr Mkabwa Manoko from the University of Dar es Salaam, Manfred Bitala, and Charles Kweyunga as well as AAsgeir R. Almas from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

The various health effects associated with heavy metal poisoning include skin and kidney problems as well as brain damage. The research says the symptoms displayed by some villagers living near the mine are consistent with poisoning from heavy metals.

The researchers warn that communities living around the mine are in danger of being exposed to hazardous chemicals from the Tigithe River and surrounding soil and vegetation. These chemicals find their way into the human body through eating of contaminated food, drinking polluted water and being exposed to contaminated air.

The report also highlights some possible effects of exposure to such heavy metals and toxic chemicals — heart disease, genetic problems, and loss of memory, respiratory complications, and reproduction organs.

The independent study, commissioned by several religious groups based in Dar es Salaam, was carried out in Kwimanga, Kwinyunyi, and Nyabigena Villages around River Tigithe in Tarime District, Mara Region.Read the full report here. It will also be launched on February8, 2011 at the Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town.