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European WEEE exports 'poisoning Africa's food'

Environmental lobby group IPEN has claimed that waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) shipped from Europe is contaminating food in west Africa.

IPEN, an international campaign against chemical pollution, said it had found severe human exposures and food chain contamination from highly toxic waste plastics in Ghana, which included toxic WEEE originating from Europe.

Researchers tracked shipments of used electronic devices from Europe to Ghana and found some of the highest levels ever measured­­­­ of brominated and chlorinated dioxins – among the most hazardous chemicals – recorded in free-range chicken eggs.

Its report Weak Controls: European E-Waste Poisons Africa’s Food Chain said the contamination resulted primarily from the breaking apart of gadgets and burning plastics to recover metals. Plastics from vehicle upholstery were also burned and contributed to the contamination.

Eggs were analysed in Agbogbloshie, where some 80,000 people subsist primarily by retrieving and selling copper cable and other metals from WEEE.

IPEN said the process of smashing and burning the plastic casing and cables to extract metals released dangerous chemicals and created highly toxic by-products including PCBs, which were banned decades ago in the UK, US and EU.

Sam Adu-Kumi, an official of the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency, said: “Europe needs to contend with its toxic e-waste rather than routeing it to developing countries, such as Ghana, where hazardous chemicals contaminate populations (especially the vulnerable) and the environment, as a result of mishandling and existing indiscriminate disposal practices.

“African countries should not be used as e-waste dumping grounds any more because we do not have the technological capacity to deal with waste containing high levels of persistent organic pollutants.”

Tech UK, which represents the technology industry, said: “It is simply not right that products that the public think will be responsibly recycled, via a system paid for by producers of those products, is later found to be illegally exported, circumventing the system entirely.

“Tech UK is committed to working with the Government in its review of the WEEE regime to consider what more can be done to address illegal activity such as this.”

It said it would support tighter regulation of exporters and greater scrutiny of the sites to which exporters claim to be shipping waste.

 

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