British man punished for exporting e-waste into Ghana

A British man found guilty of exporting e-waste into Ghana has been punished by the UK Environment Agency (EA).

He has been ordered to serve 280 hours of unpaid work and given a six months curfew order for not having the correct environmental permission in place for operating an e-waste collection site and for exporting the waste to Ghana.

The man, Phillip Jesson, according to the EA, operated the waste site at Britannia Works, Smallbridge, Rochdale where he was storing waste fridges, freezers, televisions and computers of which some parts are classed as hazardous.

By operating this site without a permit in place, the EA says on its website there is the potential for significant harm to the environment and/or human health.

Sites which operate with environmental permits have strict controls in place and also benefit from regular visits from the Environment Agency to ensure that their activities will not cause harm, it added.

Jesson was found guilty of illegally exporting fridge and freezers to Ghana.

The shipping container in which the waste fridges and freezers were being shipped to Ghana was discovered in Belgium following a routine stop check by authorities in that county, the EA says.

“The container had been exported from the UK and was destined for Ghana. It was found that Mr Jesson was exporting waste illegally from his site in Rochdale. Under current legislation, the export of waste fridges and freezers to Ghana is prohibited,” the EA says.

Ghana has been cited as a choice destination for criminal gangs in Europe and America who in contravention of international laws ship unusable electronics items to Ghana and other developing countries under the guise of sending second-hand items to charity or to sell cheaply to local citizens.

Some media reports had indicated that e-waste from the UK was continually being dumped in Ghana. Following the reports the EA initiated investigations into the matter in 2008.

During investigations, some of the damaged computers found at the Agbogbloshie dump site in Accra had labels of the National Health Service (NHS). Some other computers with NHS labels were also found to be on sale at secondhand electronics equipment dealers’ shops in Ghana’s capital Accra. Some of the PCs were also found to have come from UK local councils and universities, including Kent County Council, Southampton County Council, Salford University and Richmond upon Thames College’s (RUTC).

E-waste is known to contain dangerous chemical pollutants that are released into the atmosphere and underground water.

The modes of disposal, which include dumping old gadgets into landfills or burning in smelters, also expose the environment and humans to a cocktail of toxic chemicals and poison.

These chemicals contain substances like lead, mercury and arsenic.

The cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in most computer monitors and television screens have x-ray shields that contain 4 to 8 pounds of lead, mostly embedded in glass.

Flat screen monitors that are mostly used in laptops do not contain high concentrations of lead, but most are illuminated with fluorescent lights that contain some mercury.

A PC’s central processing unit (CPU), the module containing the chip and the hard disk, typically contains toxic heavy metals such as mercury (in switches), lead (in solder on circuit boards), and cadmium (in batteries).

Plastics used to house computer equipment and cover wire cables to prevent flammability often contain polybrominated flame retardants, a class of dangerous chemicals. Studies have shown that ingesting these substances may increase the risk of cancer, liver damage, and immune system dysfunction.

Lead, mercury, cadmium, and polybrominated flame retardants are all persistent, bio-accumulative toxins (PBTs), that can create environmental and health risks when computers are manufactured, incinerated, landfilled or melted during recycling. PBTs, in particular are a dangerous class of chemicals that linger in the environment and accumulate in living tissues.

And because they increase in concentration as they move up the food chain, PBTs can reach dangerous levels in living organisms, even when released in minute quantities. PBTs are harmful to human health and the environment and have been associated with cancer, nerve damage and reproductive disorders.

Looked at individually, the chemicals contained in e-waste are a cocktail of dangerous pollutants that kill both the environment and humans slowly.

Lead, which negative effects were recognized and therefore banned from gasoline in the 1970s causes damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, kidney and the reproductive system in humans.

Effects of lead on the endocrine system have been observed, including the serious negative effects it has on children’s brain development. When it accumulates in the environment, it has high acute and chronic effects on plants, animals and micro-organisms.

Cadmium compounds are also toxic with a possible risk of irreversible effects on human health and accumulate in the human body, particularly the kidneys. Cadmium occurs in certain components such as SMD chip resistors, infra-red detectors, and semi-conductor chips.

Mercury on the other hand, can cause damage to various organs including the brain and kidneys as well as the fetus. More especially, the developing fetus is highly susceptible through maternal exposure to mercury.

These are only few of the chemicals used in the manufacture of electronics equipment. Other chemicals are Hexavalent Chromium which is used as a corrosion protection of untreated and galvanized steel plates and as a decorative or hardener for steel housings. Plastics including, PVC are also used. Plastics constitute about 13.8 pounds of an average computer.

The largest volume of plastics, 26% used in electronics is PVC. When PVC is burned, dioxin can be formed because it contains chlorine compounds. Barium, is a soft silvery-white metal that is used in computers in the front panel of a CRT, to protect users from radiation.

Studies have shown that short-term exposure to barium has caused brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to the liver, heart and spleen.

Considering the health hazards of e-waste, another ubiquitous computer peripheral scrap worth mentioning is toners. The main ingredient of the black toner is a pigment commonly called, carbon black – the general term used to describe the commercial powder form of carbon.

Inhalation is the primary means of exposure, and acute exposure may lead to respiratory tract irritation.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

  1. Ken says

    Kudos to you

  2. Kwame says

    This is a welcome news for the vulnerable masses who are victims of greed and lawlessness. Thanks, Emma for the efforts.

  3. KWAKU says


  4. Edmund Smith-Asante says

    This is Good!

  5. Adwoa E. Sey says

    This is a welcoming news, anyone who tries to dump electronic waste in any part of the continent must be dealt with severely irrespective of where the person is coming from. E- waste is fast becoming a world challenge and posses a great threat particularly to us in our continent where so many things do go unnoticed.

    That He has been ordered to serve 280 hours of unpaid work, and a six months curfew order for not having the correct environmental permission in place for operating an e-waste collection site and for exporting the waste to Ghana in my candid opinion is a small price to pay but it’s a start.

    i am just glad that something is being done about it. We are going have more challenges where electronic waste is concerned in our parts of the world especially now that Ghana is joining the rest of the world by going digital. We are already going to have challenges when we stop using all the analogue gadgets, where will they be dumped and how will they be managed?

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