News / Africa

Study Names Cameroon as Hotspot for Mercury Contamination

Ntaryike Divine Jr.
Soaring costs of meat, currently selling at US$6 per kg across Cameroon, have forced up to 20 million consumers to rely on low-priced fish for balanced diets.

But a scientific probe has unveiled bad news for those who depend on the relatively cheaper protein source. Its findings reveal that fish caught in Cameroonian waters contain extremely high concentrations of mercury, a chemical element and metal harmful to human health. 

The survey, titled Global Mercury Hotspots was conducted between May and June last year.  It’s findings were just recently made public.  The study measured the amount of ingested mercury in a sample population on the outskirts of Cameroon’s largest city and industrial hub, Douala. 

According to the findings, residents of the city are highly exposed to contamination by the metal.

Medics say humans are often exposed to its most poisonous form, methylmercury,  by consuming fish living in polluted waters.  Ingestion of the contaminated food can destroy the human immune and nervous systems, and damage developing embryos. 

The research was jointly manned by experts from the Biodiversity Research Institute, the International POP Elimination Network and the Center for Research and Education for Development. 

Nineteen trial subjects from two predominant fishing communities just outside of Douala – Youpwe and Takele - offered hair samples for analysis. Dr Gilbert Kuepouo, Coordinator at the Center for Research and Education for Development says results of the analyses conducted at a laboratory in the northeastern US state of Maine revealed disturbing methylmercury traces in the trial subjects.

He says 17 of the hair samples showed worrying mercury contamination levels way above WHO limits of one microgram of mercury per kilogram of human body mass.  Kuepouo says they found concentrations ranging from 2.8 to 3.8 micrograms per kilogram [or parts per million].  He adds that even more disturbing were two others who displayed exceedingly elevated levels surpassing 540 micrograms

Mercury occurs naturally in geological deposits, volcanoes, and also as an introduced contaminant in the environment from metal processing, gold mining, coal incineration and hospital waste.  It is easily carried over vast distances in the atmosphere by wind and then deposited on land and water sources.

Some of the mercury that falls from the air onto water sources is converted by marine bacteria into methylmercury.   Fish devour the microscopic animals called zooplanktons, who have consumed the substance.  At each stage in the aquatic food chain, the concentration of methylmercury,  which is much more easily absorbed than is excreted, is magnified.

Dr Jude Attah, the co-author of the report, says "Our conclusion is that the main source of contamination is fish, though there are other sources like some skin-lightening lotions, clay and artificial teeth workshops. The Wouri estuary where most of the fishing off Douala is done is highly polluted with mercury from the various industries around."

The researchers have recommended urgent measures to reduce mercury emissions in Douala, where more and more people depend on fish for proteins.

They are urging governments in the region to immediately enact legislation to encourage mercury-polluting industries to obtain equipment to clean up contaminated environment.  They also want a limit on imports of raw materials containing mercury and the inspection of industrial and hospital garbage before disposal. 

Since 2009, the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP has been pushing for a negotiated global pact to progressively phase out and eventually eliminate mercury emissions worldwide.  The initiative is due to be completed this year.  It will likely include a legally binding treaty which will stand as a basis for national laws and help to reduce emissions worldwide.

Listen to report on mercury contamination in Cameroon
Listen to report on mercury contamination in Camerooni
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More