In recent times, the brouhaha surrounding Galamsey (illegal mining) in Ghana have heightened.

A large population of the Ghanaian public have expressed deep concerns about the poisoning of water bodies in Ghana with mercury due to practices associated with Galamsey. Sadly, the water bodies have been polluted to the extent that their colourless, transparency and odourless characteristics have turned into a creamy, muddy and stinky aqueous solution of unimaginable pH. Most of the water bodies in Ghana have been deprived of their prime value of sustaining life both underwater and on land. Climate change is also an issue of concern regarding galamsey practices in Ghana.

The Ghana government’s intervention of commercially encouraging miners to patronize the mercury-free plants to continue mining somewhat cannot solve the problem holistically and sustainably. Thus, the critical question to ask is how do we recover the poisonous and muddied waters?

A research study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed 8 technologies for treating mercury in water. These technologies include a) precipitation/coprecipitation; b) adsorption; c) membrane filtration; and d) bioremediation. Other innovative technological approaches for the treatment of mercury in water include e) nanotechnology; f) phytoremediation, g) air stripping, and h) in-situ thermal desorption.

However, in the process of applying such technologies, structures such as filtration units especially pipelines and metal support columns need to be deployed to recover the water from impurities. With the aid of the pipelines and metal support columns, oxygenation and aeration can be done to recover the polluted water bodies. Thus, the pipelines would create the channel for oxygen to be dissolved in the waters to improve aeration and to make the water bodies safe and potable for drinking, fish farming (aquaculture), and drip irrigation in agriculture. In addition, separation and filtering of impurities and particles from the water bodies can be achieved utilizing centrifugal separation and vortex flotation to treat, clean and manage the water bodies through the recovery process.

Interestingly, the role of welding strongly comes into play as such pipelines and metal support columns need to be manufactured with materials, predominantly metals. Due to conformity and quality assurance purposes, manufacturing and construction of such pipelines and columns would require welders who have been qualified according to ISO 9606, and or have earned a certified diploma.

Mostly, pipelines are welded using the manual metal arc (MMA) welding process due to the availability of consumables and economy of scale. On the other hand, the advantages of using advanced welding processes such as metal inert gas or metal active gas (MIG/MAG) welding, tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding or orbital welding is primarily based on productivity. After the pipelines and columns have been manufactured, they will be laid on the riverbeds for the recovery process to take place.

Although these welding and manufacturing activities present job-rich opportunities for the teeming youth, to explore the role of welding in the recovery process of Ghana’s polluted waters due to Galamsey, at least 10,000 or more welders and allied professionals need to be trained. This is because Ghana has a deficit of qualified welders who can demonstrate competence and expertise in pipe welding and be able to weld sophisticated structures.

Currently, welding engineers, technologists, specialists, inspectors and allied professionals like non-destructive testing and destructive testing (NDT&DT) personnel are scarce in Ghana. Institutions like Regional Maritime University (RMU), Danest Engineering, etc. have the facility to commence such training in Ghana. 

All relevant stakeholders such as the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and its agencies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Ghana Water Company Limited, miners, industry players from the mining communities, etc. need to come together and form a forum in discussing Galamsey in Ghana. A team of experts should be put together to further research on these technologies and consider implementing the best solutions. Working towards the UN sustainable development goals in the areas of clean water and sanitation must also be prioritized.

The author is a mechanical /welding engineer, a TVET and pedagogy consultant, a senior researcher and a social entrepreneur.