Title

Investigating metal exposure on the general populace of the copper mining town of Kitwe, Zambia

Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (Environmental Management)

School

School of Natural Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Andrea Hinwood

Second Advisor

Professor F. D. Yamba

Third Advisor

Dr Halina Rollin

Abstract

Zambia’s economy is highly dependent on the copper mining industry for foreign export. It is well established that copper mining contributes to significant elevated metals in the environment, hence increasing the risk of metals exposure to human populations living in and around mining areas.

Recent research has focused on the environmental impact of copper mining byproducts such as lead, cadmium, copper, cobalt and arsenic, found at elevated concentrations in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. Although the environmental metal concentrations are well known, the human health risks of exposure have not been fully addressed. Few studies have addressed metal exposure in communities adjoining mining activities in Zambia. The health impacts of increased metals exposure include: immune disturbance, gastrointestinal effects, various diseases such as: cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and decreased fertility in women. This study has investigated the relationship between environmental concentrations of metals and non-occupational human exposure and the most significant contributors to human exposure.

A cross sectional human exposure study of 45 copper-mining town residents in Kitwe (exposed) and 48 non-mining town residents in Livingstone (unexposed) of similar socioeconomic and demographic characteristics aged between 20 and 30 years was undertaken to quantify metals exposure levels of Kitwe residents. This age group is most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and is therefore at an increased risk of adverse health impacts from elevated metal concentrations. Metal concentrations were determined for arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, nickel, selenium and zinc in environmental (drinking water, indoor dust and soil) and biological (toenail) samples provided by participants. A questionnaire was also administered to establish potential factors influencing exposure including environment, behaviour and lifestyle factors.

The results from this study suggest that residents in Kitwe are at an increased risk of metals exposure and consequently are also at an increased risk of being impacted by the adverse health effects associated with exposure. This study found elevated environmental and personal exposure concentrations shown to be comparable with, and in some cases higher, than other heavily industrialized regions. Metal concentrations were generally higher in Kitwe. Lead and arsenic in drinking water were most concerning having concentrations above acceptable health standards. Arsenic, copper and lead were elevated in soils. Copper and lead in dust were also high relative to other studies. The personal exposure concentrations (in toenails) most concerning were: cadmium, lead, copper and cobalt whose concentrations were either comparable or higher than studies reporting adverse health effects. Demographic and lifestyle characteristics did not show to be important contributors to exposure. This study found environmental metal concentrations to be the most important contributors to human exposure concentrations.

The project has provided current information on personal exposure concentrations resulting from non occupational exposure to copper mining, as well as establishing background environmental and exposure concentrations which can be used as a reference for future studies. It is hoped that these findings will prompt further research into metals exposure and the associated health risks in order to provide a safer environment for Kitwe residents.

LCSH Subject Headings

Edith Cowan University. Faculty of Computing, Health and Science -- Dissertations
Copper mines and mining -- Environmental aspects -- Zambia -- Kitwe
Metals -- Physiological effect -- Zambia -- Kitwe
Metals -- Health aspects -- Zambia -- Kitwe

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