Human Health Risks, Environmental and Ecosystem Damage Associated with Contamination of Used Motor Oil at Auto-mechanic Villages in Ghana (2016-2017)

Ghana is among the many developing countries whose transportation sector is dominated by imported used vehicles. The country’s ten regions each contain a vast number of businesses—grouped into “auto-mechanic villages”—dedicated to keeping these old cars and trucks on the road. In the Ashanti region near the city of Kumasi, one such village called Suame Magazine contains hundreds of auto repair workshops. It’s just one of more than a thousand villages for auto repair in that region alone.

Most mechanics work without gloves and dispose of used motor oil by pouring it into the ground, affecting streams, drinking water aquifers and the ecosystem. Used motor oil can be harmful to human health, the environment and the ecosystem, and can contaminate the food chain.

This Bass Connections project team collaborated with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi to assess the levels of heavy metals and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) pollution in soils, drinking water resources and food crops within and near Suame Magazine. The joint team investigated hair samples, the potential of mechanics being exposed to heavy metals and PAH and possible effects on their health.

Over winter break, the Duke team conducted sample collection and testing with their KNUST partners in Suame Magazine. Team members collected samples of mechanics’ hair, fingernails and toenails along with measurements of blood pressure, weight and height. These samples were analyzed at KNUST, revealing high levels of iron (which can be associated with liver disease, cardiac arrest and diabetes) and chromium (associated with cancer). The average blood pressure was very high.

The team found that many mechanics were not aware that the used oils contained chemicals that could affect their health. After the trip, the students analyzed and assessed the data to explore any potential associations between the heavy metals in the samples and blood pressure. The data will form the basis for an education and awareness campaign.


Fall 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

Data collection and analysis in Suame Magazine

Local news feature on the Duke-KNUST collaboration, filmed in Suame Magazine


Study of Auto Mechanics in Ghana Reveals Health Hazards

This Team in the News

Auto Mechanics Keep Vehicles on the Road in Ghana, But Are They Putting Themselves at Risk?

Kenan-supported Project Investigates Auto Repair Health Hazards in Ghana

Additional support for this project was provided by the Silver Family Kenan Institute for Ethics Fund in Support of Bass Connections.

Team Leaders

  • Fred Boadu, Pratt School of Engineering-Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Dennis Clements, School of Medicine-Pediatrics: Infectious Diseases

/graduate Team Members

  • Naa Adoley Allotey, Global Health - MSc
  • Nana Young, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Jason Dinh, Biology (BS)
  • Prathibha Juturu, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Natalie Moszczynski, History (AB), Global Health (AB2)
  • Jasmine Oon Mei Tan, Computer Science (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Suzanne Katzenstein, Kenan Institute for Ethics

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Marian Nkansah, KNUST
  • Harry Tagbor, KNUST