Plateau Monarch

...As experts warn of dire health and safety consequences, need for urgent intervention
….We are aware of challenges — Health Commissioner

By Marie-Therese Nanlong, Jos

A YEAR ago, 13-year-old Richard Ekene absconded from his school along the Bauchi Ring road for three days to join other boys to swim at the Lamingo Dam in Jos. Having certified himself ‘a good swimmer’, he tried his ‘skill’ in one of the several abandoned mining pits in the area.

The misadventure almost cost him his life, but for an irrigation farmer who saw when he jumped into the pit. The farmer and his workers, using water pump, evacuated water from the pit and eventually pulled him out.

That timely intervention saved him and he was rushed to a hospital where he was revived. While it could be said that Richard’s act was deliberate, many persons and animals have accidentally injured themselves or lost their lives in the abandoned mining ponds and pits that dot the Plateau State’s landscape.

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They not only deface the environment but also pose a perennial threat to human lives and endangered species of animals. Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development expert, Dr. Gurumwal Longjan, is unhappy with the ugly development, which he notes had the capacity to further contaminate the already threatened environment and contribute to climate change challenges.

He explained that danger lurks in these ponds due to the presence of heavy metals which could seep into the water, adding that tests have already been conducted to determine the toxicity of some of the mining ponds. It can be inferred from these findings that contaminated water from the abandoned mining ponds can seep into and contaminate both ground and surface waters within the immediate vicinity of the ponds.

Dr. Longjan said: “Flowing water can also be contaminated via contaminated soil. The Ministry of Water Resources and Energy/Plateau State Water Board distributes water sourced from dams, underground aquifers and ponds. There is a possibility that over time, flow paths could have formed that linked the abandoned mining ponds to the groundwater pools. This would lead to direct contamination by the toxic mine water. There is a high probability that both crops and animals within their proximities have been exposed to the poisonous chemicals. This might have inadvertently led to the introduction of heavy metals into the food chain via crops.

“The extended contamination would have occurred as a result of a process called “Phytoaccumulation”, which is when plants absorb toxic chemicals from the water/soil, faster than they can excrete them. This leads to high concentrations of the toxic chemical within their tissues. For animals, the equivalent process is “Bioaccumulation” and this can occur as a result of drinking contaminated water from the abandoned mining ponds or eating plants that have absorbed the heavy metals.”

On the health implications, he noted: “The kidney is the first target organ of the toxicity of these chemicals due to its ability to filter, reabsorb and accumulate heavy metals. The resulting effect is the dysfunction and eventual failure of the organ. Another key target organ of the toxicity is the liver. One of the liver’s primary functions is to detoxify the human body by breaking down or modifying toxic substances. This process thus brings it into constant interaction with heavy metals with adverse consequences.”

As a way out, Longjan suggested thus: “There must be a research funding from the Ecological Funds that is usually allocated to Plateau State to address issues related to abandoned mining ponds. There should be collaboration among the state, University of Jos, National Veterinary Research Institute, National Institute of Soil Science, NAFDA, UNEP, and other national and international agencies to ascertain the impact of the abandoned mining ponds on the Plateau environment,” before any other steps is taken.

However, a water expert in the employ of the state government who spoke anonymously, confirmed some of the fears. According to him: “Because there is tin in Jos, the element is found in almost all water sources even wells in the state, and that is why we advise people to take treated water to remove the impurity of tin.”

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