Friday, 1 April 2016

How electronic waste could be the reason cancer is increasing in Nigeria- Expert

A technician fixing a damaged computer

This article is quite interesting and will make a good read if you have ever wondered why there are higher cases of cancer among Nigerians.

The situation at the sprawling Ladipo Automobile Spare Parts Market in Mushin Local Government Area, is not too different from what obtains at Computer Village in  Ikeja. And because used and refurbished mobile devices are all you find at the market, an average dealer generates more volume of waste than their counterparts in Ikeja or any other ICT market in other parts of Lagos.

Unwanted auto parts, like discarded telephone and computer components are often tossed into a canal that links the market with Isolo. From there, the refuse is channelled by the black current water towards FESTAC town.

Indeed, there is a growing concern that telephone chargers and other accessories that often float on the canal pose a threat to the environment. But those who have observed the abuse in the water channel, like in other parts of Lagos, will quickly note that Lagosians should be more worried that dead batteries of mobile devices also find their way into the canal.

The Computer Village and the Ladipo Automobile Spare Parts Market are not isolated cases nor is the challenge of e-waste more severe in those business communities than other parts of Lagos.

Take a walk to Ikorodu, Ajah-Lekki, Surulere, Oshodi, Egbeda, Ojodu-Berger, Oshodi, Apapa and Yaba; in every major road in these communities are dozens of dealers whose business strength is in second-hand phones.

Although there are no reliable statistics to show the total volume of such commodities sold in Lagos and other parts of the country, investigation shows that used laptops, not new ones, are in great demand at the Lagos Computer Village. Yet, this is, at best, an assumption. There is no empirical data to support such claim.

However, a document sourced from the Institute of Chartered Chemists of Nigeria’s website says about 400,000 computers arrive Lagos seaports monthly, out of which about 75 per cent are obsolete and unserviceable. Such scraps, it claims, are dismantled while the residual parts taken to land-fills and other dump sites.

“Nigeria has literally been turned into an international dump site for all manner of electronic junk,” says the document.

Another report by the US-based San Diego Tribune says up to 80 per cent of e-waste generated and meant for recycling in the US is quietly exported to developing countries, mostly Africa. It describes the economy of restriction of such export as poor.

The document wonders why Nigeria and other African country have not developed e-waste management policy like the European Union, the US, Canada and several other countries have done. In 2002, EU came up the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, a policy that holds manufacturers responsible for disposal of their products after their lifetime.

The current regimentation also suggests that there is a huge market for the items that some foreign countries may have discarded.

For both phones and laptops, there are dealer shops where you cannot buy less than 10 units. In some cases, the minimum transaction they entertain is above 10. Those who operate at this level are known as ‘direct importers’. There are retail shops where you can buy single units of used electronic items.

Each day, sales attendants, at both wholesale and retail outlets, struggle to cope with the demand from hundreds of customers, who walk in and out of their shops in carnival-like manner. Interestingly, one can still find first-generation laptops, whether ‘tested’ or ‘not tested’, in those shops.

A ticking time-bomb

The Federal Ministry of Environment, two years ago, announced that it would embark on new policy to reduce the importation of obsolete computer gadgets into the country. But experts say such policies are rarely implemented.

Principal Consultant, Codub Group, a UK-based asset management company, Chidi Umeano, sees the rise in e-waste as the result of the Federal Government’s nonchalant attitude to asset management practice. According to him, Nigerians ignore vital aspects of the lifecycle of an asset, which include disposal when deciding on acquisition.

Umeano describes the challenge as a time-bomb waiting to explode, saying not until the government develops the political will to enforce public discipline, there is little anybody could do to contain it.

Regarding the impact of e-waste on human health, a former Chief Medical Director,  Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Prof. Akin Osibogun, argues that challenges associated with e-waste are not different from those of radiation.

Osibogun says that the mass of electronic waste could generate “accumulated radiation” if not properly disposed. Radiation, he adds, could be much higher when there is a high concentration of gadgets in a location as we have in the Computer Village.

 He explains, “If you don’t dispose of them properly, there could be accumulated radiation. Secondly, there is also the risk of physical hazards since they contain metals. And this can cause injuries and other things.

“Also, there are battery elements in some of them, which means they contain chemicals that can pollute underground water. Through boreholes and wells, people could fetch the water for use, thus drinking poison. Some of such batteries could even explode.”

With some of the waste being funnelled to the seas, the public health expert says the aquatic lives of the urban centres are endangered. The implication of this threat to the society, according to him, will be compounded if people eat, for instance, fishes that feed on such chemicals. As a result, he says, even the waste people think is washed away by canals “will come back to us.”

Rising cases of cancer may be due to accumulated e-waste – expert

Asked if there is evidence of health complications due to rise in e-waste , Dr. Peter Ogunmade of Lagos-based Petros Foundation Hospital, says it is difficult to trace health complications to a specific source.

“What experts do is to exclude unlikely causes of such ailments after which they zero in on one or two possible causes. Most times, you need the history, profession and lifestyle of a patient to properly guess.”

Medical cases associated with information and communication technology, Ogunmade suggests, will assume a more analytical and predictable form as its adoption deepens.

“People may not fully appreciate the problems of mobile technology for now. But they will as adoption of the technology increases. The challenges of e-waste may be more pronounced in the west where there is excess of everything.”

 But Osibogun says Nigerians may have started paying the costs of haphazard e-waste management. He points to rising cases of cancer and other non-communicable diseases as some possible health impacts.

“We are not going to re-invent science in Nigeria. It has been established that electromagnetic wave, in general (they are in different frequencies), can lead to increase cases of cancer. That has been established, and Nigeria is not going to re-invent the wheel. All over the world, the caution is that people should reduce human exposure to radiation.”

Full article at The Punch