Health and Well-being Associated with Small-scale Gold Mining in Amansie West District, Ghana (2019-2020)


Gold plays an integral part in Ghana’s social and economic development and currently accounts for a third of Ghana’s overall export revenue. Increasingly, gold extraction is transitioning from large mining operations to small-scale, often illegal, mining ventures.

Informal small-scale gold mining in Ghana typically occurs in shallow pits where earth material is removed, crushed, washed, amalgamated with mercury and then burned to extract trace amounts of gold. While artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) may improve households’ short-term livelihood, airborne exposure to mercury that is burned through the mining process has serious permanent health impacts for both individuals who work directly in mining, as well as members of their households and inhabitants of the surrounding communities.

Chronic, long-term exposure to mercury affects multiple organ systems and is a risk to the neurological development of children. Importantly, exposure is not limited to inhalation; airborne mercury has been shown to contaminate water where it is converted into methylmercury and subsequently bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in fish. 

Beyond the direct physical impacts, ASGM also disrupts the social fabric of a community, potentially being associated with school dropout, crime and sexual risk behaviors. The mining practice further contributes to environmental degradation, threatening food security and increasing the risk of vector borne diseases.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will assess the health and well-being of informal gold miners in the Amansie West District of Ghana in partnership with Millennium Promise (MP) Ghana. The team will collaborate over an 18-month period (October 2018 to April 2020) to design, implement and analyze an observational, mixed-methods study to describe small-scale gold mining in Amansie West.

Through a comparison of miners, their household members and non-mining community members, the study will characterize and compare the gradient of exposure to mercury and arsenic, as well as physiological health indicators, in each group. The socio-economic and occupational structure of miners, their household members and non-mining community members will be also characterized.

This study will generate data that can support education, advocacy and future research on ASGM in Ghana.

Anticipated Outputs

Report to MP Ghana to be shared with the local government and stakeholders; poster presentation at Triangle Global Health Consortium annual conference; peer-reviewed publications; preliminary data for future grant applications


Spring 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Spring 2019: Share IRB protocols with Ghana Health Service and Duke; finalize project materials and prepare for fieldwork (e.g., develop communication protocols, contingency plans, training agendas; organize program tablets for electronic-based data collection)
  • Summer 2019: Fieldwork in Ghana based at KNUST, including site visits, surveys, sampling, community engagement, data management and sample processing
  • Fall 2019: Establish plan for data analysis; present work at DGHI Global Health Showcase and Triangle Global Health Consortium Annual Conference
  • Spring 2020: Collaborative work on peer-reviewed publications; development of new study protocol

This Team in the News

Meet the Winners of the 2020 Bass Connections Student Research Awards


Image by Agence France-Presse

Gold miner in Ghana by Agence France-Presse.

Team Leaders

  • Fred Boadu, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • William Pan, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Mozhgon Rajaee, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Melissa Watt, Duke Global Health Institute

/graduate Team Members

  • Reshma Nargund, Environment-PHD
  • Ahmad Tejan-Sie, Global Health - MS

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Abena Antobre, Biology (BS), Global Health (AB2)
  • Tenzin Choeyang