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Open Access Research article

A cross-sectional survey on knowledge and perceptions of health risks associated with arsenic and mercury contamination from artisanal gold mining in Tanzania

Elias Charles1*, Deborah SK Thomas2, Deborah Dewey3, Mark Davey4, Sospatro E Ngallaba1 and Eveline Konje1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health, Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences, PO Box 1464, Mwanza, TANZANIA

2 Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Denver, PO Box 173364, Denver, CO, 80217-3364, USA

3 Departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, 2888 Shaganappi Trail NW, Calgary, AB, T3B 6A8, CANADA

4 Exploration Unit, Twigg Gold Limited, PO Box 1866, Mwanza, Tanzania

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:74  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-74

Published: 25 January 2013

Abstract

Background

An estimated 0.5 to 1.5 million informal miners, of whom 30-50% are women, rely on artisanal mining for their livelihood in Tanzania. Mercury, used in the processing gold ore, and arsenic, which is a constituent of some ores, are common occupational exposures that frequently result in widespread environmental contamination. Frequently, the mining activities are conducted haphazardly without regard for environmental, occupational, or community exposure. The primary objective of this study was to assess community risk knowledge and perception of potential mercury and arsenic toxicity and/or exposure from artisanal gold mining in Rwamagasa in northwestern Tanzania.

Methods

A cross-sectional survey of respondents in five sub-villages in the Rwamagasa Village located in Geita District in northwestern Tanzania near Lake Victoria was conducted. This area has a history of artisanal gold mining and many of the population continue to work as miners. Using a clustered random selection approach for recruitment, a total of 160 individuals over 18 years of age completed a structured interview.

Results

The interviews revealed wide variations in knowledge and risk perceptions concerning mercury and arsenic exposure, with 40.6% (n=65) and 89.4% (n=143) not aware of the health effects of mercury and arsenic exposure respectively. Males were significantly more knowledgeable (n=59, 36.9%) than females (n=36, 22.5%) with regard to mercury (x2=3.99, p<0.05). An individual’s occupation category was associated with level of knowledge (x2=22.82, p=<0.001). Individuals involved in mining (n=63, 73.2%) were more knowledgeable about the negative health effects of mercury than individuals in other occupations. Of the few individuals (n=17, 10.6%) who knew about arsenic toxicity, the majority (n=10, 58.8%) were miners.

Conclusions

The knowledge of individuals living in Rwamagasa, Tanzania, an area with a history of artisanal gold mining, varied widely with regard to the health hazards of mercury and arsenic. In these communities there was limited awareness of the threats to health associated with exposure to mercury and arsenic. This lack of knowledge, combined with minimal environmental monitoring and controlled waste management practices, highlights the need for health education, surveillance, and policy changes.

Keywords:
Hazard risk knowledge; Perception; Artisanal mining; Arsenic and mercury; Tanzania