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Ghana Atomic Energy Commission poses health threat to residents?

BY: Louis Dogbatsey
The writer
The writer

The inconsiderable alarming rate of people moving from different parts of the Greater Accra Region to settle on the land of Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) in Atomic environs is becoming too much of a case for cancer threat and other non-communicable diseases for the people of this area.

It is very true that the first President of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, established GAEC to solve the entire energy problem and socio-economic and political development since independence in 1957.

Experiment

As far back as 1952, Ghana was using radioisotopes and radio strontium to experiment on monkeys to pick up cancer cells that had spread in their bones.

In 1958, the Gold Coast College of Ghana, now called the University of Ghana, set up committee members in the physics department of Gold Coast College on behalf of the Ministry of Defence to monitor radioactive services in the country.

However, in 1959, radioactive applications had gained ground in many parts of Ghana just to set up a radioisotope unit in some parts of the country.

Health implications

Remember, the atomic land where the nuclear reactor (the GHARR-1) was installed and its environs were wetlands, and there are natural-occurring gases that emanate from the ground and also from the radioactive machines and equipment that have been stored in the commission since 1957.

This came to mind that all these machines and equipment kept since 1957 could produce a high level of radiation, including natural-occurring gases from the wetlands of GAEC, exposing radon, chromium and lithium gases to the environment, which will be more than 4.0 picocuries per litre of air (PCi/L).

This high level of these dangerous gases could cause health implications for the residents who build on the land without any protective measures.

Once these residents live in this environment for more than 10 years, there is a possibility that this effect could be part of their health problems for some time now.

Radioactive detector

The radioactive detector always gives the level of radiation that has accumulated in the various environments, homes and even on the individual clothes they wear.

The severity of this health threat will be much higher because the area was once a wetland before it was turned into a buffer zone. Radon, lithium and chromium gases are naturally occurring gases that can cause lung cancer.

The exposure of these gases emanating from the ground because the place was a wetland may pose a much higher risk to the residents on GAEC land. Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium or radium, which are radioactive metals, break down in rocks, soil and groundwater.

People can be exposed to radon primarily by breathing radon in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes.

Radon gas can enter buildings through their foundations and become trapped underground, according to the US National Radon Exposure Control Board (radiation exposure control board).

Sequel to this canker, what measures were taken on the provision of land distribution to these individuals who settled on GAEC land once the health implications of this canker were not known to these people?

EPA

What was the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Act, 1994 (Act 490) before these individuals and business entities took over the land?

The EPA is the main body vested with the authority to administer environmental laws in Ghana. The act, among other things, is "an act to amend and consolidate the law relating to environmental protection, pesticide control and regulation. It provides for the powers, as well as the governing body of the EPA”.

The act also establishes the Hazardous Chemicals Committee and empowers the board to create such departments and divisions as and when necessary.

In 2016, the then Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, on his second working visit to the GAEC, lamented the numerous challenges confronting the commission.

He described the issues of encroachment on GAEC lands, poor electricity supply and sustainable research funding as “disturbing,” assuring that his office was liaising with the Interior Ministry and the Inspector General of Police for an investigation to salvage the situation.

The writer is a social research scientist, GAEC.