Two recent studies show that e-waste exported to developing nations continues to cause great harm to the children in the areas where our e-waste is crudely handled in China and Ghana.
A 2010 study of children in Guiyu, the “e-waste capital” of China, shows that a shocking 88 percent of the 167 children tested (all younger than 6 years old) had lead poisoning. China Daily reports that the main reason for high levels of lead among Guiyu’s children is the lead dust from e-waste, “which floats in invisible clouds about a meter above the ground – that is, around the same height as children’s noses and mouths.” Some exposure occurs from the dust that the parents, who work in the e-waste facilities, bring home on their clothes.
The study was performed by the Shantou University Medical College, which has been measuring blood lead levels in children in Guiyu since 2004.
A second report just released by the Danish journalistic watchdog DanWatch and the makeITfair campaign shows that e-waste exports to Ghana, the primary e-waste dumping ground in Africa, is causing similar harm to children on the other side of the world from China. According to the report Children constitute around 40 percent of the scrap workers at the Agbogbloshie dumpsite, a Ghana’s biggest e-waste dumpsite.
According to the report, children who work at the e-waste dumpsite at Agbogboshie visit the nearby health clinic regularly with cuts, coughs, headaches, upper respiratory problems, rashes and burns, which are attributed to their work with the waste. The toxic fumes from the burning process and the glass and metals from the dismantling cause problems for the children.
The exposure isn’t limited to people working in the dumpsites. “Just around the corner you will find one of the biggest food markets in Accra, an area that is indeed also being affected by the hazardous handling of e-waste at the dumpsite, since the black smoke from the bonfires reaches this area too. In addition to this, some of the vegetables sold at this market come from the small farms situated in close proximity to the Odaw river, which in turn means that these vegetables are being irrigated with contaminated water.”
A study of blood and urine from adults working in or living nearby the dumpsites found high levels of lead and other heavy metals. (Children were not studied.)
While much of the e-waste going to Ghana comes from Europe, some of it comes from the United States, particularly from the east coast.
While officials in Ghana are seeking safer methods of processing e-waste, they are also asking developing countries to change their exporting practices.
“ ‘We are calling on the companies and governments in the developed countries in the light of the Basel Convention to stop dumping of electronic gadgets,’ says John Pwamang head of the Toxics Department at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency.” Stakeholders in Ghana want the exporting countries to be sure that the exports consist only of working products.
Members of the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would do just that. H.R. 2284 and S.1270 would allow exports only of tested, working electronic equipment, but would restrict the export of untested or non-working e-waste from the U.S. to developing countries. This would not only stop our used electronics from contaminating workers, children, and communities in these nations. But it would also promote more recycling, and create jobs, here in the U.S.
“Lead levels in children linked to rise in e-waste profits”
The China Daily, November 16, 2011
“What a waste – how your computer causes health problems in Ghana”
A report from the MakeITfair campaign in Europe and DanWatch (Denmark), November 2011.