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High toxic levels found at school, market neighboring informal e-waste salvage site in Africa

Tests at a school beside an informal electronic waste salvage site in Ghana's capital Accra reveal contamination due to lead, cadmium and other health-threatening pollutants over 50 times higher than risk-free levels.

A produce market, a church headquarters and a soccer field are likewise polluted to varying degrees, all neighbours of the Agbogbloshie scrap metal site, where electronic trash is scavenged for valuable metals - especially copper. Schoolchildren as young as six work around bonfires of circuitry, plastic and other leftover high-tech trash.

Ironically, experts say critical metals and other elements in all that destroyed equipment -- much of it castoffs from Europe and North America -- may soon be in short supply, which threatens to drive up the cost of products ranging from flat-screen TVs and mobile phones to electric cars and wind turbines.

The contamination test results were shared by Ghana researcher Atiemo Sampson at this year's Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP-Initiative) Summer School, hosted in Europe by Philips and Umicore for 20 of the field's most promising international graduate researchers.

The sampling -- for iron, magnesium, copper, zinc, cadmium, chromium, nickel and lead -- showed dangerous contamination at the school and market; both had levels roughly half those measured at the site where the e-waste is incinerated. In soil around the school site alone, measurements of lead were 12 times higher and cadmium 2.5 times higher than the levels at which intervention is required.

Mr. Sampson adds that similar e-waste sites are being created elsewhere in Ghana.

New rules in Ghana expected

"Until now, Ghana has not regulated the importation and management of e-waste," says Mr. Sampson, who in addition to his research with Ghana's Atomic Energy Commission and PhD pursuit at the University of Ghana, is working on a Diploma in International Environmental Law throu

Contact: Terry Collins
United Nations University

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