UN raises concern over health hazards from electronic waste

bankimooNLists Nigeria, others as major sources

A STUDY conducted by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has revealed Nigeria as one of the major sources of electronic waste in Africa without the needed protection against its impact on human health and the environment in the country and the West African sub-region.

In the study conducted on Nigeria, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Liberia, and based on the findings of national e-waste assessments carried out in the five countries from 2009 to 2011, it was discovered that those five nations generate “between 650,000 and 1,000,000 tonnes of domestic e-waste” annually.

In fact the report, released at last weekend, added that “domestic consumption makes up the majority (up to 85 per cent) of electronic and electrical equipment waste produced in the region”, according to the study titled Where are WEEE in Africa?

It is known that electrical and electronic equipment can contain hazardous substances (e.g. heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine disrupting substances such as brominated flame retardants).

The UN report added that “hazardous substances are released during various dismantling and disposal operations and are particularly severe during the burning of cables to liberate copper and of plastics to reduce waste volumes. Open burning of cables is a major source of dioxin emissions, a persistent organic pollutant that travels over long-distances that bio-accumulates in organisms up through the global food chain.”

Additionally, the e-waste problem in Nigeria and the other West African nations “is further exacerbated by an ongoing stream of used equipment from industrialised countries, significant volumes of which prove unsuitable for re-use and contribute further to the amount of e-waste generated locally,” the report observed.

UNEP’s Where are WEEE in Africa? report sheds light on current recycling practices and on socio-economic characteristics of the e-waste sector in West Africa and also provides the quantitative data on the use, import and disposal of electronic and electrical equipment in the region.

According to Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UNEP,  “effective management of the growing amount of e-waste generated in Africa and other parts of the world is an important part of the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.

“We can grow Africa’s economies, generate decent employment and safeguard the environment by supporting sustainable e-waste management and recovering the valuable metals and other resources locked inside products that end up as e-waste.”

Highlighting the Rio+20 conference later in June, the report shows how measures such as “improved collection strategies and establishing more formal recycling structures, can limit environmental damage and provide economic opportunities.”

Detailing the Nigerian situation, the report disclosed that “an analysis of 176 containers of two categories of used electrical and electronic equipment imported into Nigeria, conducted from March to July 2010, revealed that more than 75 per cent of all containers came from Europe, approximately 15 per cent from Asia, five per cent from African ports (mainly Morocco) and five per cent from North America.”

Besides, the UK is the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic wastes, followed with large gaps by France and Germany. In fact Nigeria is deemed “the most dominant African importing country for new and used EEE, followed by Ghana.”


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