Wednesday, June 9, 2010

E-waste in Ghana - How many children are dying from lead poisoning?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

News this week about over hundred people including children dying from lead poisoning in Zamfara State in Nigeria raises lots of concern, and must sound the warning alarm for Ghana in the light of the e-waste dumping that goes on in the country.

According to the BBC some 163 people have died from lead poisoning and there are fears that many more are likely to die. The deaths occurred after local people started digging for gold in areas high in concentrations of lead.

Ghana has been identified as a dumping ground for electronics waste or e-waste from the UK, the USA and other European countries. Evidence uncovered by both local and international media including organizations like the Greenpeace shows that the West’s e-waste is being dumped in Ghana.

E-waste is known to contain a cocktail of poisonous chemicals that are released into the atmosphere and underground water and these chemicals contain substances like lead, mercury and arsenic.

Indeed, apart from e-waste that is brought in from outside the country, e-waste is also generated locally. Most Ghanaians have no idea what to do with their obsolete mobile phones, TV sets, sound systems, refrigerators and computers. Some simply dump these at repair shops and others onto waste dumps.

On a trip around some of Accra’s electronics items shops, one sees large numbers of obviously outmoded and unusable electronics items in store.

Lack of a national policy and or national collection points for such items make local generation of e-waste another source of concern. But what should be more worrying is the news from Nigeria that people are dying from lead poisoning.

It is not known yet if a conclusive study has been carried out in Ghana regarding lead poisoning from e-waste. But information available says some samples have been taken from some young people who work at the Agbogbogbloshie dump dismantling old electronics items and burning the cables to extract the copper for testing.

The Greenpeace had done a lab test of the soil and water at Agbogbloshie from where electronics items are dismantled and the cables put on fire to remove the copper wires. The results of the Greenpeace test showed that the soil in the area contained toxic chemicals at levels a hundred times more than allowable limits.

With these evidences, it is clear that Ghanaians are exposed to a great deal of chemical dangers from e-waste, but it appears there are no proactive efforts to stem the tide before the situation gets out of hand.

If Ghanaians are unaware of the dangers posed to human health and life, the news from Nigeria should be enough to wake the country up to the time bomb we are sitting on as unknown numbers of Ghanaians could be dying from chemical poisoning from e-waste.

In a recent email communication with the UK’s Environment Agency (EA), an official told that they have concluded investigations into allegations that some recycling companies in the UK contracted to recycle e-waste have been dumping these into Ghana. The EA said they have handed the findings to their lawyers.


UK concludes investigation of e-waste dumping in Ghana

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The Environment Agency (EA) of the UK has completed an investigation into the dumping of electronics waste or e-waste into Ghana by some suspected UK recycling companies, has learned.

The investigation was initiated in 2008 following media reports that some recycling companies in the UK were collecting obsolete computers meant for recycling in the UK and dumping them into Ghana.

Following email enquiries by to the EA, an official, Scarlett Elworthy wrote this response, “Our officers have now completed their investigations and their findings are now with lawyers for consideration.”

But checks with Ghanaian government officials show that Ghanaian environment officials do not know about the investigation.

In a telephone interview with the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Ms. Sherry Ayitey, she told that she is not aware of the investigation.

British media reports which led to public outcry and forced the EA to initiate the investigation discovered discarded computers from the National Health Service (NHS), and some universities which were collected by recycling firms for proper disposal dumped in Ghana, at the Agbogbloshie scrap yard in Accra.

The Independent, a UK publication also published a report based on investigations it conducted which revealed that toxic wastes from the UK continue to be dumped in Ghana and Nigeria.

The report said tonnes of toxic waste collected from British municipal dumps are being sent illegally to Africa in flagrant breach of the country’s obligation to ensure its rapidly growing mountain of defunct televisions, computers and gadgets are disposed of safely.

Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps, the report said.

Despite mounting evidence that the UK is a regular source of the e-waste that comes to Africa, particularly Ghana and Nigeria, the UK government admitted in September 2009 that it is unable to stop the practice “because of the exponential surge in volumes of incorrectly classified waste being exported,” according to the Computer Weekly.

Some of the damaged computers found at the Agbogbloshie dump site in Accra had NHS labels on them. Other PCs were found to have been the property of UK councils and universities, including Kent County Council, Southampton County Council, Salford University and Richmond upon Thames College.

It is known that 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated in the world annually and a great amount of that ends up in developing countries including Ghana and Nigeria.

Britain is responsible for around 15 per cent of the EU’s total e-waste, which is growing three times faster than any other municipal waste stream.