A new study by IPEN and BAN has found that toxins from e-waste activities at Agbogbloshie is contaminating Ghana's food chain, but Ghana's EPA dismisses this and says it won't be taking any urgent actions to stop the toxic threat/pollution from the Agbogbloshie scrapyard.
Ghana's Minister for environment also falsely claimed on 2 July 2019 that the open burning of electrical wires for copper recovery at Agbogbloshie has ceased.
Last updated: 7 October 2019 11:34 PM GMT
By Muntaka Chasant | 2114 words | Reading time: 8 min
Agbogbloshie, Ghana - A short film (shot handheld with a cell phone)
Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana
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.
Rahim, 27, is burning electrical wires for copper recovery at the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump in Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
That should explain why Ghana has turn a blind eye to the open burning of electrical wires for copper recovery near the center of Accra, the country's capital city.
True, this provides the impoverished young people in and around Agbogbloshie a desperately needed work alright.
Young men burning electrical wires to recover copper at Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana/ September 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
But how does Ghana's society tolerates this dangerous levels of environmental pollution for more than two decades just so the poor young men could earn a few Ghana Cedis each day?
Toxicity issues at Agbogbloshie is not widely publicized in Accra, let alone the whole of Ghana.
As the largest open food market in Accra, locals regularly pick up fresh food from Agbogbloshie. It appears that's the bit a lot of Accra residents know about Agbogbloshie - cheap food.
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 yam, vegetables, fruits, beef and fish from Agbogbloshie.
In fact, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one third of street food venders in Accra pick up their inputs from Agbogbloshie.
The FAO warned of Agbogbloshie food contamination threat 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.
What is Going on at Agbogbloshie?
First, do not conflate the open burning of cables to recover copper with the unsafe dismantling of e-waste at Agbogbloshie.
Dismantled Printed Circuit Boards at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ August 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
The burning of electrical wires for copper recovery at Agbogbloshe has very little to do with the illegal importation of e-waste into Ghana.
A young man breaking apart old television sets with a stone to recover aluminium at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ August 2019. This area of the scrapyard is strewn with crushed CRT screens. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
Most of the electrical wires are collected locally - from households, auto repair shops, electrical shops, electrical contractors, other junkyards, and sometimes through theft (overhead power line).
So don't be too quick to start pointing fingers.
There are several environmental and health hazards related to recycling at Agbogbloshie.
The release of toxic substances from this 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 photos and videos (above and below) are usually the visible manifestation of the precious metals business at Agbogbloshie.
Rahim, 27, with his son, burning electrical wires to reclaim the copper wires inside. Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ December 2018. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
To the world, they are the villains.
But there are several layers of people involved, which you do not see.
You have the scavengers who roam through Accra every day to collect electrical wires and auto parts.
Then the occasional intermediaries (not always), 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 videos in this article to remove the plastic sheaths off the copper wires.
The wires are mostly turned over to the 'burner boy' in this manner:
Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
The freshly recovered dirty copper are then carted away after the burn, weighted and sold inside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard.
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 newer 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.
The people making money off this business would find their replacements the next morning.
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 chicken eggs from 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 meat from Agbogbloshie ends up in Ghana's food chain. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
In addition to the photo above, if you look carefully in some of the scenes in the videos in this article, 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 2 July 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 as at October 2019.
Ghana's EPA's response to the IPEN and BAN findings is disappointing.
It appears that the Government of Ghana is not bothered by scenes such as those in the videos in this article. If not, why have they failed to intervene to protect the city's population from this toxic threat?
Why has the minister for environment misled Ghanaians and the entire world about Agbogbloshie?
I have visited Agbogbloshie once every two weeks (sometimes more) in the last 11 months, and things are getting worse, as new burning spots seem to be springing up every now and then.
Update (7 October 2019): I have been to Agbogbloshie 17 times in the last 4 weeks, and I counted 4 new wire burning spots in addition to the several that are already functioning in and around the scrapyard. And again, the minister above misled Ghanaians and the world when he mentioned on 2 July 2019 that Agbogbloshie no longer posed a toxic threat. IT IS NOT TRUE!
Activities at Agbogbloshie have rather intensified in the last few months, worsening toxicity concerns.
Things are not looking good at Agbogbloshie.
Perhaps the Government of Ghana should attempt tackling the problems at Agbogbloshie themselves rather than shoving it all off on benevolent development partners (new PC phrase for a horizontal beggar-giver relationship at the state-to-state level).
RELATED: Agbogbloshie 2019
Despite the environmental health risks, the Government of Ghana for instance has done absolutely nothing to stop the use of scrap tires to singe livestock at Jamestown, Accra.
Lots of African governments have more than half a century record of failure at almost everything, so no, I don't expect you to trust Ghana's EPA, MESTI and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to fully understand the extent of the toxicity issues at Agbogbloshie.
Ghana's EPA is underfunded and under resourced.
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 due to air pollution, Ghana's EPA does not issue air quality alerts to inform the public when 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 e-waste for metal recovery at Agbogbloshie.
Agbogbloshie is probably still one of the worst polluted places on earth, as captured in the video above and the one at the bottom of this article.
And Accra residents still eat 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 after more than two decades?
Why are urban areas in Ghana drowning in single-use plastics?
Plastic Pollution in Accra, Ghana / 5 October 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Why are Ghanaian roads filled with dirty and polluting cars?
While my generation (mid-80s) may be responsible for a lot of Ghana's environmental problems right now, we were not, and are currently not responsible for policy.
My generation is not responsible for the mess that is Ghana today, as we are rarely allowed the opportunity to participate in policy making.
It is still the older people at pensionable ages who shouldn't be working who make policy.
Since this clearly breaches Act 917, a court should be able to stop the hazardous pollution from Agbogbloshie.
I will be exploring legal options on the toxic air pollution from Agbogbloshie if the situation does not improve by 1 August 2019
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)↩