July 29, 2021

‘Electronic waste tsunami’ threatens health of millions of children, WHO warns

We call them “Salvagers” (“Reclaimers”). Teenagers, sometimes very young, burn electronic waste to collect copper, cobalt, platinum and other precious metals. Black, acrid fumes make the air unbreathable. Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium spread in the soil, contaminate the water. Welcome to Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra.

Renamed “Sodom and Gomorrah” by the inhabitants of the capital of Ghana, Agbogbloshie has been considered for several years as the most polluted site in the world. It is above all one of the largest landfills of electronics on the planet. Smartphones, computers, tablets, televisions, batteries, household appliances… around 40,000 tonnes are dumped there each year from Europe and the United States.

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This electronic waste is slowly poisoning the approximately 80,000 people who survive on the fringes of the landfill. Starting with the youngest. Because at “Sodom and Gomorrah”, we start working early, very early, from the age of 5 years. In an unpublished report, Children and digital dumps, published Tuesday, June 15, the World Health Organization (WHO) is sounding the alarm on this “Outbreak of e-waste affecting the health of millions of children”.

“A child who eats a single Agbogbloshie chicken egg absorbs 200 times more dioxins than the daily limit set by the European Food Safety Authority”, warns Marie-Noël Bruné Drisse, head of the environment and child health department at WHO. Dioxins are persistent organic pollutants. They accumulate in the food chain and can cause cancer, birth defects or impaired child development.

“Poor management of electronic waste is a growing threat that many countries do not yet recognize as a public health problem,” alert Mme Brune Halyard. If they do not act now, the consequences will have a devastating effect on the health of children and will weigh heavily in the years to come. ”

Illegal landfills

The director of the UN institution, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, evokes a “E-waste tsunami”. The figures are indeed giddy. According to the latest data available, 53.6 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment were produced worldwide in 2019: the equivalent of 350 cruise ships in single file over a distance of 125 kilometers. Only 17% of this waste is properly collected or recycled. Everything else ends up in illegal landfills or feeds into the informal recovery circuit.

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