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02.05.2007 General News

Cancer threat hits Nsawam

By Nana Kwaku AGYEMAN borehole water is contaminated by nitrate from pineapple farming

Scientific evidence released by a team of researchers has revealed that the people of Nsawam, especially women and children stand the risk of developing various kinds of terminal diseases notably cancers of the stomach and bladder.

This is because the source of water for the Nsawam community, in the Akwapim South District of the Eastern Region, is primarily from boreholes that are highly contaminated with nitrates from fertilizers used on pineapple farms.

Nitrate levels were found to be four times higher than the concentration deemed safe for human consumption in samples of water taken from the boreholes in the community.

The evidence is contained in a geophysical survey report released by a team of Civil and Environmental Engineers from the Duke University in the US and available to the dailyEXPRESS.

“… Intense farming practices combined with characteristics of the local geology are making for a dangerous mix. Fertilizers and pesticides used to boost the yield of pineapples grown in the country's thin soils are trickling down through fractured bedrock directly into the water supply below,” the report says.

Nsawam is very popular for the farming of pineapples for domestic consumption and export to the European markets. Pineapple faming is the major income generating activity for area.

But little do the pineapple farmers know that their farming practices could be harmful to their own health.

The research team led by a Ghanaian Associate Professor at Duke University's Engineering School, Fred Kofi Boadu also found that “most of the groundwater wells are contaminated with nitrates from fertilizers, at highly elevated levels that are posing serious risk to human health, especially in women and children.”
“Nitrates have been linked to stomach and bladder cancers. They can also lead to birth defects,” says Dr. Boadu.

The research team found that the nitrates from fertilizer used on the farms are almost immediately pumped back through to the boreholes which people in the agricultural community of Nsawam depend on for water.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation of the USA was the first of its kind in Ghana and according to Dr. Boadu and his team, the study highlights an important link between geology, engineering and human health.

They added that “while the subsurface rock fractures provide the needed groundwater yield, they also serve as conduits for contamination.”

He indicated that the new findings might lead to new methods to identify alternative locations for safer drinking water in of Nsawam, by avoiding areas with high-intensity directional rock fractures.

The findings of nitrate levels raise questions about possible exposures to pesticides, including the highly toxic DDT used by the locals, Boadu said.