The Ghana government has been asked to take immediate steps to stop the toxic pollutants from the dismantling and burning of electrical wires and e-waste for copper recovery at Agbogbloshie as it is endangering the health of the population.
Mr Muntaka Chasant, a Social Entrepreneur, said a recent finding by the IPEN and the Basel Action Network indicates that hazardous chemicals such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among other highly toxic chemicals from activities around Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, could be finding their way into the city’s food chain.
IPEN is a global network of public interest non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working together to, among other things, reduce and eliminate the world’s most harmful chemicals, while Basel Action Network is a charitable NGO, working to combat the export of waste from technology and other products from industrialised societies to developing countries.
Mr Chasant, the Chief Executive Officer of Airmask & Textiles Company Ltd, an anti-pollution face mask company in Accra, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said: “A lot of us have always known that food from Agbogbloshie could be contaminated with toxins from e-waste activities.”
“Agbogbloshie is the largest open-air food market in Accra. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, one third of street food vendors in Accra pick up their inputs from Agbogbloshie. Yet this same area is one of the most highly toxic environments in the world,” he said.
Mr Chasant said another study by Dr Jack Caravanos of the New York University’s College of Global Public Health, and other researchers, published in 2013, also found high levels of led in soil content samples taken at some sections of the Agbogbloshie scrapyard.
He said the study found 18,125 parts per million (ppm) of led in one of the samples taken, compared with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended standard of 1200 ppm for non-play areas.
The study also found elevated levels of heavy metals and trace elements such as manganese, barium, selenium, and zinc in the urine and blood serum samples of 87 Agbogbloshie metal scrap workers, who volunteered to be studied.
Mr Chasant, who has been involved in an air pollution awareness campaign in low-income areas in Accra, including Agbogbloshie and Jamestown, said: “There are several problems at Agbogbloshie, but the most immediate is the open burning of insulated copper wires, auto parts, radial steel tires, and e-waste for the recovery of copper, radial steel and other precious metals.”
He explained that this released a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals into the land and air, which clogged the lungs of residents, and now getting into their food chain.
“The particulate pollution level around Agbogbloshie is some of the worst we have seen anywhere in Accra. You can actually smell and taste the contaminated air as you approach Agbogbloshie. The highly toxic smoke from activities inside and around the Agbogbloshie scrapyard threatens the health of thousands of people living downwind of the smoke,” Mr Chasant said.
In his estimation, an e-waste facility that was not going to employ all or majority of the young men inside the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ and other nearby settlements would not be making much difference at Agbogbloshie.
“Any attempts to solve the problems in and around the Agbogbloshie scrapyard without considering the conditions in the nearby settlements may be an exercise in futility,” he said.
“Agbogbloshie scrapyard and the nearby settlements are linked. A 2008 study found that scrap-related work is the second largest category of employment in the settlement. One thing that is interesting, regarding our approach to problem solving, is how we tend to overlook research findings.”
“Researchers spend many hours collecting data, and very often, we toss aside their valuable findings because it conflicts with our individual positions or because the study was not conducted by a local government agency.”
Mr Chasant urged Ghana’s authorities to immediately act on the IPEN and the Basel Action Network findings for a sustainable solution to the e-waste problem.
“It is time we approach problem solving using the scientific method. It is our only chance at attempting to solve some of the most challenging issues we face in our society today.”