Ghanaian journalist, Mike Anane, began corresponding with SVTC in late 2008 about ewaste dumping in Accra. In our spring newsletter, Lauren Ornelas, our campaign director, interviewed Anane on the e-waste being shipped to Ghana under the guise of charity. Earlier this month, ABC TV visited the Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Ghana with Mr. Anane to document the very conditions Mr. Anane had described to lauren.
We are happy to post Lauren’s interview with Mr. Anane in its entirety below.
LO: What do you do in Ghana?
MA: I am currently campaigning to stop the shipments of electronic waste from the industrialized countries to Ghana. Professionally I am an independent environmental Journalist.
LO: How long have you noticed the problem with e-waste?
MA: I noticed the problem some six years ago but it was intermittent but these days several containers loaded with e- waste arrive in the country daily from these countries including the US and I am talking of between 250 to 300 containers full of toxic end of life computers and television sets.
These discarded electronic items are not functional. They are junk and toxic. Nobody wants them in their backyard because of the health and environmental implications but they are sent to Ghana and dumped all over the place. But in Ghana, there are no mechanisms in place to properly dispose of the e-waste or recycle them.
LO: Where does most of the e-waste come from? (what countries?)
MA: Majority of the e-waste come from the US, UK, Holland Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France etc
It is easy to tell their country of origin because some of the e-waste still bears their ownership labels and addresses.
LO: What types of e-waste is most common? (computers, TVs,)
MA: They are mainly computers and television sets.
LO: Is there a particular company that you see a lot of e-waste from? (Example HP, Dell?)
MA: All the companies including Apple, Dell Toshiba, HP, Philips, Panasonic have their e-waste sent here to Ghana.
LO: What is done with the e-waste?
MA: Usually the e-waste is shipped into Ghana from the US under the guise of second hand reusable items. When they arrive at the port of Tema in Ghana, Ghanaian businessmen hoping to find working computers and TVs go to the port where they buy these items untested, the rest of the e-waste is then sent to the e-waste dump at Agbogbloshie where they are dumped at the open air dumps.
Majority of the e-waste bought by Ghanaian businessmen from the port here also ends up at the dumpsite as they simply do not work and cannot be refurbished since they are obsolete with some parts broken.
LO: Who handles the e-waste? (adults, children, men, women)
MA: At the e-waste dumps children some as young as 5 years can be seen daily breaking and dismantling the e-waste -computers and TV sets. The children wear no protective gear and they are exposed daily to the toxic elements in the e-waste. They then burn the wires and other parts to extract the copper.
LO: Have you noticed any types of health problems associated with the e-waste?
MA: The children and others who work at the dumpsite complain of persistent headaches, respiratory problems, chest pains and headache. One of the children told me that he could not run as he used to so he is not able to play and run around with other kids.
I have also been informed that a 28 year old man who worked at the e-waste dump has been diagnosed with cancer after he complained that when he coughs or spits he finds blood in his sputum. His brother who also works at the e-waste dumpsite disclosed this to me.
LO: Have you noticed any types of environmental problems due to the e-waste?
MA: With regards to the environmental problems they are many. For instance two water bodies run through the dumpsite, a lagoon and a river, both are now biologically dead and e-waste dumping in the area is a major contributoring factor as some of the e-waste is dumped directly into the lagoon and the river.
Further, each time it rains the toxic substances at the dumpsite and the banks of the river are flushed into the lagoon and the river both then empty the cocktail of poisons into the sea not far from the area. The lagoon and the river contain no fishes or other living organisms.
The breaking of the computers and TV sets release so much lead from the CRT’s into the soil and ground water. The burning of the plastics, wires and other parts of the computers also releases toxic fumes laden with cadmium, brominated flame retardants and others into the soil as well and into the atmosphere. The shipments of e-waste from the US and others certainly have immense implications for the health and environment of the country.
Over the years I have been collecting and filming e waste shipped into the country from US, the photos of e-waste in Ghana, some still bearing their ownership labels of institutions in the US, go a long way in proving that the US is shipping used electronic devices containing toxic substances to Ghana with little regulation and enforcement to protect people and the environment here.
In Ghana, we do not have any mechanisms to recycle or properly dispose of e-waste that is shipped here, rather children some as young as 5 years troop to the e -waste dump in Accra daily to break CRT monitors and also burn the wires in these end-of-life computers and television sets to extract copper.
This method is not only crude and inefficient but it has virtually no human health or environmental protection.
Really the question is whether there are rules and regulations in the US covering shipment of e-waste overseas, does the US Environmental Protection Agency care? If they do then they should initiate investigations into the shipments of e-waste to Ghana from the US. The ownership labels the e-waste that I have collected could provide some clues.
The cost to the environment in Ghana and the health of people here is increasingly becoming obvious and unbearable and the US EPA cannot be absolved from blame, indeed the US EPA is complicit in these environmental crimes. America can’t continue to ship its toxic electronic waste to Ghana and pretend that all is well. The relevant regulatory institutions and concerned organizations and individuals in the US need to act fast in the face of the increasing shipments of hazardous waste to Ghana. This is my humble appeal.
Make sure that your e-waste doesn’t get exported. Find a responsible recycler near you.