Tuesday, February 19, 2008

E-waste Kills

I watched "Assignment Africa" on CBS. Dana King was reporting on the electronic wasteland in Ghana.

The pollution there is simply terrifying--the land, water and the air.
"Blackened sludge runs through the dump and out to the ocean. And what look like raindrops on the surface are actually mosquitos, likely carrying malaria."

But what I found most disturbing was that children were burning the scraps of electronic matter to obtain copper, which they can sell later for some money. When electronics are burnt, toxic fumes are produced. Those black fumes ain't just fumes. They are toxic fumes that can bioaccumulate. We know that electronic equipments utilize heavy metals such as lead and mercury, toxic organic materials such as dioxins and PCBs. See the link?

It is poisonous, it is dangerous, so why do they still burn scrap electronics? Perhaps it's the money?

"The Ministry of Education and Sports has a field right next to where people are burning toxic material. The children play soccer in the smoke."

Or maybe not. The people of Agbogbloshie (probably the Ghanaian government as well) are obviously unaware of these health hazards.

How great is the danger?
"In the US alone, an estimated 30 million computers are thrown out every year. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of this number, only 14% are recycled."-myjoyonline.com
"But from the scientific evidences available in other parts of the world, the probability that e-waste could be a large contributing factor to some illnesses in Ghana is high."-myjoyonline.com

And who do we blame? The EPA, for making loopholes in the definition of hazardous waste? The computer industry? The Ghanaian Government? Or just call it a "rapid advancement in technology"?

Can we consider e-waste dumps in a third world nation to be normal? It has been going on for quite some time now and I would like to emphasize that some e-wastelands are of close proximity to populated areas. Well, are we just going to be passive, or are we going to take action? Obviously, there are already pressures from environmental organizations for the government and computer industry to recycle electronic waste. But the question is, is that enough to make a difference at all?

There is always a financial side to many environmental issues and I will not doubt it. But for the sake of those African children out there who are living in areas polluted with our e-waste, computer industries ought to start recycling responsibly and stop dumping e-waste in poor nations. Hopefully, this problem can be mitigated in time to come.

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