Electronic waste activities at Agbogbloshie is contaminating Ghana's food chain - according to an IPEN and the BAN study published in April 2019. But Ghana's EPA has dismissed the study and thus has not taken any urgent actions to contain the toxic threat/pollution from the Agbogbloshie scrapyard.
Last updated: March 18, 2020 20:14 GMT
By Muntaka Chasant | 2113 words | Reading time: 7.5 min
Rahim, 27, is burning electrical wires to recover copper at the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump in Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana
RELATED: Latest Agbogbloshie E-waste Images
Despite rising global wealth, much of Africa remains in a state of extreme misery, with millions mired in unimaginable poverty.
Thousands of people in places such as Agbogbloshie face significant hardship and poverty.
That should probably explain why the Government of Ghana has turned a blind eye to the open burning of waste cables to recover copper near the center of Accra, the country's capital city.
This appears to provide the impoverished young people in and around Agbogbloshie a desperately needed work alright.
Agbogbloshie, Ghana - A short film (shot handheld with a mobile phone)
But how does the Ghanaian society tolerate this dangerous levels of environmental pollution for this long?
As the largest open food market in Accra, Agbogbloshie is known as the go-to place for cheap food in the capital. But very few residents actually know that they pick up their food from one of the most polluted environments in the world.
Agbogbloshie Onion Market is a few yards away from the Agbogbloshie scrapyard, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Yes, Accra residents regularly pick up cheap yam, vegetables, fruits, beef and fish from Agbogbloshie. Other satellite markets in the capital also pick up fresh produce from Agbogbloshie.
In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one third of street food vendors in Accra pick up their inputs from Agbogbloshie.
This is how the FAO framed Agbogbloshie in 2016:
"Agbogbloshie is a toxic threat. The burning of e-waste releases toxic fumes that spread throughout the community, threatening city dwellers. The toxic chemical fumes released get into the food market and get inside the soil throughout the area when it rains. Indeed, high levels of toxins have been discovered in soil and food samples, as these chemicals stay in the food chain." - FAO, 2016.
Agbogbloshie is located near the center of Accra and within a short walking distance from the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana's premier healthcare facility.
What is Going on at Agbogbloshie?
First — do not conflate the open burning of cables to recover the copper materials inside with the unsafe dismantling of e-waste at Agbogbloshie. They are two separate problems.
Dismantled Computer Parts at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ August 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
The open incineration of cables at Agbogbloshe has very little to do with the illegal importation of e-waste into Ghana — as several documentaries would have you believe.
There are also several prominent livelihood activities (not e-waste related) in and around the Agbogbloshie scrapyard that are causing serious damage to the environment and human health.
Recovered steel from the burning of radial tires at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. In the distance, young men are burning locally collected electrical wires (not television sets or computers) to recover the copper materials inside. Photo Credit: © 2020 Muntaka Chasant
A young man breaking apart old television sets with a stone to recover the iron materials inside at Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana/ August 2019. Lots of the electronics which end up at Agbogbloshie were imported as used - true. But they first add value to the local economy — by several years of use by people in Ghana — before ending up at Agbogbloshie. This fact should not be left out in the narrative. Photo Credit: © 2020 Muntaka Chasant
Most of the copper wires burned in the open at Agbogbloshie are collected locally - from households, auto repair shops (auto wiring harness), electrical shops, electrical contractors, other junkyards, and sometimes through theft (overhead power line).
So don't be too quick to start pointing fingers. False finger-pointing will do little to get Ghana out of this mess. It only reinforces the 'take no blame...and point the blame elsewhere' attitude in the Government of Ghana.
This exculpatory narrative is even ingrained in the national policy document Ghana Health and Pollution Action Plan.
"Several categories of waste are imported into Ghana for the purpose of — mostly informal — recycling. One such category is waste electrical and electronic equipment including electronic gadgets like computers, television sets, and CD players."
That's a Government of Ghana policy document making up a potentially inaccurate narrative about e-waste in Ghana, as we know very well these days.
It's neither Germany nor USA's fault that electrical wires from local sources are burned in the open at Agbogbloshie, but feel free to blame the West, like the Government of Ghana, if that makes you feel better.
Environmental and Health Hazards at Agbogbloshie
There are several environmental and health hazards related to recycling at Agbogbloshie.
The release of toxic substances from the intense copper recovery process into Accra's air, the soil, and the Korle Lagoon, is only one among several recycling and related environmental and health issues going on at Agbogbloshie.
The 'burner boys' in the the video above and the photo below are usually the visible manifestation of the precious metals business at Agbogbloshie.
Burning electrical wires to reclaim the copper wires inside at Agbogbloshie, Ghana. March 2020. © 2020 Muntaka Chasant
To the world, they are the villains.
But there are several layers of people involved, which you do not see.
There are itinerant scavengers with pushcarts who roam through Accra every day to collect electrical wires and auto parts.
Then the occasional intermediaries who pick up the wires and resell them to scrap dealers inside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard and elsewhere.
The wires are then turned over to the 'burner boys', who use the crude methods seen in the video above to remove the plastic sheaths off the copper wires.
The wires are usually turned over to the 'burner boys' in this manner (tangled up and mixed with other objects including car steering wheels):
Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. Photo Credit: © 2020 Muntaka Chasant
The freshly recovered copper is then carted away after the burn, weighted, and sold for instant cash inside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard.
The price of copper at Agbogbloshie as at early March 2020 was around GH₵10 ($1.8) per pound.
According to macrotrends.net, the average global price of copper in mid-March 2020 was around $2.15.
Freshly recovered copper about to be carted away and sold. Agbogbloshie e-waste dump, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
The copper changes several hands before reaching a point where they are reprocessed and used in new products, mostly outside of Ghana.
The 'burner boys' are usually the least earned in this process, and the most impacted.
I see them as victims of this terrible place.
Lots of people make money off this Agbogbloshie copper recovery business.
It is Accra residents and the 'burner boys' who suffer the most.
You can see why other employment gigs for these guys won't be changing the game at Agbogbloshie. They are actually disposable.
The people making the real money off this lucrative business would find their replacements the next moment.
Learn a bit more about what is going on at Agbogbloshie in the links below.
What is the most recent research finding concerning Agbogbloshie?
A recent study by IPEN and the Basel Action Network (BAN) has found high levels of toxins such as dioxins, furans, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among other highly toxic substances, in free-range chicken eggs in Agbogbloshie.1
There are several livestock ranches around the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump.
Cattle resting near the smoking fires of burning electrical wires at the Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump in Accra, Ghana/ 30 July 2019. Low quality and likely contaminated beef from Agbogbloshie ends up in Ghana's food chain. Photo Credit: © 2020 Muntaka Chasant
In addition to the photo above, if you look carefully in the scene in the video above, you can actually see free-roaming cattle and sheep moving about on the Agbogbloshie e-waste landfill looking for something to chew on.
Where do you think their meat ends up?
Government of Ghana and Agbogbloshie
The Acting Executive Director of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), John Pwamang, in an interview with a local radio station has dismissed the IPEN and BAN study, pointing to a proposed e-waste facility (to be mainly funded by the German Government) as an hopeful game-changer at Agbogbloshie.2
Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, Minister responsible for Ghana's Environment - The Inauguration of the Abgbogbloshie Technical Training Centre/ March 2019. Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Ghana's EPA is an agency of Ghana's Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology & Innovation (MESTI).
On July 2, 2019, Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, the minister pictured above, told a room packed full of journalists that since the inauguration of the Agbogbloshie Technical Training Centre (see my criticism of this facility here), the burning of electrical wires for copper recovery at Agbogbloshie has completely ceased.
In fact, he advised the journalists to ignore all images coming out of Agbogbloshie as they may have been unearthed from the archives.
Agbogbloshie was no longer a toxic threat - the minister comforted the journalists.
But this was not true, and is still not true in March 2020.
Ghana's EPA's response to the IPEN and the BAN findings is disappointing to say the least.
It appears that the Government of Ghana is not bothered by scenes such as those in the video above. If not, why have they failed to intervene to protect the city's population from this toxic threat?
I have visited Agbogbloshie once every two weeks (sometimes more) for 2 years, and things are getting worse, as new burning spots seem to be springing up now and then.
Activities at Agbogbloshie have rather intensified in the last 2 year, worsening toxicity concerns.
Things are not looking good at Agbogbloshie and won't be looking good if the Government of Ghana does not intervene (instead of shoving it all on a development partner such as the German implementing agency GIZ).
RELATED: Agbogbloshie 2019
Lots of African governments have more than half a century record of failure at almost everything. I will actually be surprised if anyone expects Ghana's EPA (terribly underfunded and resourced), MESTI and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to understand any bit of the extent of the environmental pollution at Agbogbloshie.
Ghana's EPA for instance has only 15 air quality monitors (plus 10 low-cost sensors) in the whole of Ghana. All located in the Greater Accra Region. None for the rest of the country's 15 regions.
Despite estimates by the World Health Organization that more than 28,000 premature deaths in Ghana every year are linked to air pollution, Ghana's EPA does not issue alerts even when poor air quality is expected to negatively impact health.
And data from their insufficient air quality monitoring networks are also not publicly accessible.
Ghana only monitors particulate matter - no monitoring of gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.
As you can see here, Ghana does not have the resources to identify and analyze the toxic air pollutants (except particulate matter) from the burning of electrical wires and radial tires for metal recovery at Agbogbloshie.
Agbogbloshie is probably still one of the worst polluted places on earth, as captured in the video above.
And Accra residents still eat cheap vegetables, fruits, beef, and fish from this 'toxic hell'.
Is there a way to tackle Agbogbloshie immediately?
This could be illegal as it appears to breach the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act and Regulations (Act 917 and LI 2250). No new Legislative Instrument is required.
Enforcing environmental laws (and all branches of law it seems) is a major problem in many developing countries, including Ghana.
Ghana has very comprehensive environmental laws.
It was easy to copy and paste laws from other jurisdictions, but they are rarely enforced.
If not, why is this still going on?
Why are urban areas in Ghana drowning in single-use plastics?
The heavily polluted Korle Lagoon in Accra, Ghana. Plastic Pollution in Ghana / 5 October 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
How To Ruin A Planet: Plastic Pollution by Muntaka Chasant
Why are Ghanaian roads filled with dirty and polluting cars?
Since this clearly breaches Act 917, a court should be able to stop the hazardous pollution from Agbogbloshie.
I have explored legal options on this, and currently mulling over the next step. I'll make sure to update this page if anything happens. In the meantime, don't believe any document or write-ups that claims Agbogbloshie is anything safer today than it was a decade ago. Agbogbloshie has never been this worse!
See also: Pictures: The Rwandan Genocide
Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!
1. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/apr/24/rotten-chicken-eggs-e-waste-from-europe-poisons-ghana-food-chain-agbogbloshie-accra (Retrieved May, 2019) ↩
2. https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/business/Agbogbloshie-dump-to-remain-open-as-EPA-targets-e-waste-recycling-facility-741852 (Retrieved May, 2019)↩