European, American and Japanese electronic waste poisoning the environment in Ghana

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Greenpeace analysis of soil and sediment taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals. The report "Chemical contamination at e-waste recycling and disposal sites in Ghana", released today, exposes the extent of environmental contamination caused by recycling and disposal of e-waste in Ghana.

A team from Greenpeace, including a scientist, visited two scrap yards – one at Agbogbloshie market, in the capital city Accra, the main centre for e-waste recycling in Ghana, and one in the city of Korforidua. Samples were taken from open-burning sites at both locations as well as from a shallow lagoon at the Agbogbloshie.

Some of the samples contained toxic metals including lead in quantities as much as one hundred times above levels found in uncontaminated soil and sediment samples. Other chemicals such as phthalates, some which are known to interfere with sexual reproduction, were found in most of the test samples.  One sample also contained a high level of chlorinated dioxins, known to promote cancer.

The nature and extent of chemical contamination found at these sites in Ghana is similar to that previously exposed by Greenpeace for e-waste open-burning sites in China and India.

"Many of the chemicals released are highly toxic, some may affect children's developing reproductive systems, while other can affect brain development and the nervous system," said Dr. Kevin Brigden of Greenpeace International.  In Ghana, China and India, workers, many of them children, may be exposed to substantial levels of these hazardous chemicals.

Containers filled with old and often broken computers, monitors and TVs - from brands including Philips, Canon, Dell, Microsoft, Nokia, Siemens and Sony - arrive in Ghana from Germany, Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands under the false label of "second-hand goods". The majority of the containers' contents end up in Ghana's scrap yards to be crushed and burned by workers, often children, sometimes using only their bare hands. This method not only pollutes the environment but also exposes workers to potentially toxic dust and fumes. This crude "recycling" is done in search of metal parts, mostly aluminium and copper, which sells for approximately 2 US Dollars per five kilos.

"Unless companies eliminate all hazardous chemicals from their electronic products and take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, this poisonous dumping will continue," said Martin Hojsik, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner. "Electronics companies must not allow their products to end up poisoning the poor around the world."