E-waste threatens lives of children at Agbogbloshie, (Wednesday, October 23, 2013) pg 26

 Children under seven years at Agbogbloshie in Accra and other parts of the country who are exposed to electronic waste (e-waste) are likely to develop a number of impairments in future.

According to a study by the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), such children are likely to develop deficiencies such as lower intelligence quotient (IQ), shorter attention span, learning disabilities, impaired physical growth and audio-visual impairment as a result of high lead-blood levels.

Lead-blood level is a test that measures the amount of lead in the blood. This test is used to screen people at risk for lead poisoning, including industrial workers and children who live in urban areas.

It is also used to see if treatment for lead poisoning is working.

The study, which started in 2010, found that while lead-blood levels among children in a school close to e-waste sites exceeded 85 per cent; those in children at the burning site had exceeded 88.2 per cent.

The levels on a church premises close to the site and the commercial area (where the e-waste is sold) are in excess of 15.5 per cent and 83.5 per cent, respectively.

The site of the e-waste where the products are weighed, according to the GAEC research, was found to be highly toxic in lead-blood levels, recording 99.8 per cent, while the dismantling site had 99.1 per cent in excess of the allowable limits.

Speaking at the last in a series of lectures to mark the 50th anniversary of GAEC in Accra, the Deputy Director-General, Professor Innocent J.K. Aboh, expressed displeasure at the way e-waste was being handled in the country.

The lecture, which was on the topic, “Application of nuclear techniques in sustainable environmental resource management”, discussed the contributions of GAEC to the promotion of a healthy environment.

While some children survived by rummaging through the  e-waste, others live in the Agbogbloshie area, specifically Sodom and Gomorrah, not by choice but because their parents live in ramshackle structures that serve as accommodation.

That, Prof Aboh said, “brings into question the country’s zoning. What kind of structures are we putting at a particular place?  We need to enforce our zoning because every activity generates its own waste and some waste will have to be segregated from people”.

Agbogbloshie—the situation

Agbogbloshie is an inhospitable area of smoke and debris, nicknamed Sodom and Gomorrah. Plastic parts, wires and pieces of metal and glass lie scattered across the landscape, along with more immediately recognisable household objects such televisions and refrigerators.

 The entire area is an affront to the nose, as the air is thick with the smell of burning plastic and dirty sewage gases drifting in from the heavily polluted Odaw River.

Television sets, computers and monitors are the main e-waste processed at the scrap yard. They are burnt to remove valuable metals. Materials of no value are dumped along with other waste. Sadly, much of the work is carried out by children, some as young as five years, with no protective equipment and using basic tools or the bare hands.

The poison  build up
Explaining how the toxins build up and end up in the body, Prof Aboh said, “We were looking for toxic waste and the toxic element they leave behind. If you take a television set and you break it, there are some powder that is released. If it is left behind, there is a lot of lead and cadmium, among other toxins, that are released.”

The e-waste sites, he observed, were not limited to only Agbogbloshie.
“Every regional capital in the country has its ‘Agbogbloshie’ developing. Every regional capital has an e-waste centre, a situation we need to nip in the bud before it gets out of hand,” he said.

Professor Aboh said the study was an ongoing process, adding, “For now, we are looking at what happens as we continue to pile more waste in the soil. We want to find out what we are leaching deeper into the soil and the effects on ground water.”

According to the Ghana Chapter of Green Peace International, an international environmental advocacy organisation, Ghana and Nigeria remained the two most e-waste endemic countries in Africa.

With traders bypassing international laws by labelling electronic gadgets that have outlived their purpose as second-hand goods or charity donations, most of these goods end up Agbogbloshie.

While agreeing that e-waste was an industry that created jobs for people, Prof Aboh said the country would have to take a second look at the issue.

“We need to get people into it to do the recycling scientifically.  If somebody is opening the television tube, that person should not breath in those fumes. We can provide a system where the person will be in a hood and remove it, so that any fumes that come out of it will not affect the person."

“We need a dismantling point where people will send such items for them to be dismantled for them,” he said.
Writer’s email: seth.bokpe@graphic.com.gh


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