Mercury Levels in Groundwater near Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mines in Migori County, Kenya
In Migori County, artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is an economic activity that uses mercury during the amalgamation process to obtain gold. The waste generated in the form of soil tailings and pan-pond water contains mercury and is located close to community boreholes. The proximity may predispose groundwater to mercury contamination. Boreholes are one of the main water sources in Migori County. Ingestion is one of the ways mercury can get into the human body. This study was conducted to establish mercury concentration in groundwater from boreholes, soil tailings and pan-pond water located near five mine sites in Migori County during dry and wet seasons in comparison with drinking water standards required by KEBS and NEMA effluents discharge standards. The five mines were: -Masara, Osiri Matanda, Macalder, Kitere and Kehancha. The study used a cross-sectional-analytical study design and focused on boreholes found within a distance of 6 km from each of the five mines. Fifteen boreholes were proportionately sampled to obtain groundwater samples. 20 pan-pond water and soil tailing samples were collected in both dry and wet seasons as per the respective sampling protocols applied. Inductively Coupled Plasma –Mass Spectroscopy (7900 ICP-MS) was used to measure mercury levels. A paired t-test was used to compare the means of the levels of mercury in groundwater obtained within the two seasons. The study established that during the dry season, all of the boreholes had groundwater mercury levels higher than the recommended limit by KEBS of 0.001 mg/L. There was a decrease in the levels of mercury in groundwater as distances from the mine increased. However, during the wet season, all of the boreholes had mercury levels below the limit of detection. The study established a significant difference in the levels of mercury in groundwater between wet and dry seasons at a 95% confidence level. Mercury levels in soil tailings and pan-pond water were above the NEMA effluents discharge standards of 0.05 mg/kg and 0.05 mg/L, respectively, in the dry season. During the wet season, all pan-pond water achieved the recommended mercury level of NEMA effluent discharge limits, while the soil tailings had mercury levels above the recommended limit. This study recommends that there is a need to implement mine waste remediation. Communities near the mines continuously conduct groundwater heavy metal analysis during the dry season to protect their health
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