Looming ecological disasters - Scrap dealers dump waste into Odaw River


Looming ecological disasters - Scrap dealers dump waste into Odaw River

Disaster looms large on the horizon as flood-prone areas in Accra risk being inundated by runoff from the breaking of the Odaw River caused by tonnes of plastic waste following imminent rains and thunderstorm from now till July, this year. 

The indiscriminate dumping of plastics into the Odaw channel by communities that straddle the drain has been exacerbated by the activities of scrap metal dealers who dump volumes of electronic waste (e-waste) into it.

The Coordinator of the Greater Accra Resilient and Integrated Development (GARID) project, Dr Kwadwo Ohene Sarfoh, described the inundation of the Odaw channel by plastic waste and the effects of invasive sea waves that contributed to the siltation of the Korle Lagoon outlet into the sea as twin culprits of the looming disaster.

“If you go to the Agbogbloshie area where the Odaw drain enters the Korle Lagoon and into the sea, we have observed that the outlet which has three culverts is heavily choked with silt and solid waste.

“One of the culverts is fully choked; the second one is 75 per cent choked; and the last one is quite free and functioning. This situation hampers the free flow of water from upstream of the Odaw drain into the sea,” he stated.

The housing and urban development expert said although the GARID project was partly targeted at dredging the Korle Lagoon up to where the culverts were located, the siltation of the Korle Lagoon had made that intervention less impactful.

Scrap dealers

In the absence of a formalised e-waste collection and management system, the dealers in scrap metals along the Odaw drain in the Agbogbloshie area have resorted to dumping obsolete fridges, television sets and computers in the drain.

At the same time, the Korle Lagoon that serves as the principal outlet through which all major drainage channels in the city empty their wastes into the sea is pregnant with waste and sediments deposited by the reverse flow of the sea waves.

Several visits to the Agbogbloshie area by the Daily Graphic revealed that the scrap metal dealers along the Odaw River had regrouped three years after they were removed from their location at the infamous scrapyard at Agbogbloshie.

The removal of the dealers, who burned electronic waste arbitrarily, with health and environmental consequences, was expected to end the nuisance. However, it appears the return of the scrap metal dealers is leading to a worse polluted environment, especially the Odaw River, than it was three years ago, the Daily Graphic observed.

From dawn to dusk, they disassemble e-waste, ranging from fridges, computer monitors, televisions to microwaves in a desperate search for copper, aluminium and other reusable and recyclable materials. Remnants of the e-waste are then dumped in the Odaw canal, worsening its state.

The Daily Graphic’s monitoring of activities of scrap metal dealers at the Old Fadama slum community also revealed that on a daily basis, the area is inundated with thick clouds of dark and foggy smoke that pose health threats to the over 100,000 residents in the area, with a cascading effect on the larger population of the capital and beyond.

It was also observed that the dumping of e-waste and plastics into the Odaw River had caused it to solidify, creating a conducive soil for weeds to grow on the debris. Birds were seen perching and walking across the dead river, while livestock, including sheep, goats and cattle, grazed in the polluted scrap enclave.

With more rain expected in the coming weeks, the choked Odaw canal only signals a looming flood disaster.

Health impact

Some residents, who spoke with the Daily Graphic on the impact of the scrap business on their lives, said the menace was having a debilitating health effect on them. One of the residents, 41-year-old Jagir Manaoba, said the burning of e-waste in the open had left him grappling with cough and other health complications.

“Many of us cough a lot, making it difficult for us to sleep at night. As I sit here now I suffer headache many times,” he said. Twenty-three-year-old Amina Asibi also said the smoke from the e-waste got into their rooms and made life uncomfortable for them. “I have itchy eyes and sometimes feel dizzy because of the smoke from the scrap dealers,” she added.

A yam seller at the nearby Agbogbloshie Market, Cynthia Takal, added that the burning of e-waste by the scrap dealers has had an economic impact on their business. “We are here all the time so we do not really care about the emissions from the scrap people any longer because even if you complain, they will not stop. The challenge we have now is that customers who are not used to this environment do not want to come because of the smoke,” she said.  

An environmental health expert at the Ghana Health Service, Dr Carl Stephen Osei, said apart from being a major environmental risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, burning of e-waste also causes heart failure, stroke, reproductive issues, abortions and infertility.

He said emissions from e-waste contained metals such as lead, manganese, copper, boron and zinc that pollute land and water bodies. “When it rains, the runoff carries these toxic metals into our drinking water or food and this can cause kidney, liver and brain damage,” he added. 

Dr Osei explained that the situation was even dire for vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women, those with heightened sensitivity towards pollution, and those with pre-existing illnesses or compromised immune systems.

Climate effects 

The Director, Climate Vulnerabilities and Adaptation at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr Antwi Boasiako Amoah, said apart from the health effects of the scrap metal business, the open burning of e-waste accelerated the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby directly contributing to global warming.

He explained that when e-waste was openly burnt, it released harmful gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), both potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, and that affected the climate system.

“The improper handling of e-waste, including burning, has dire implications on groundwater because some of the heavy metals sip into the ground and end up in water bodies; and this gets the water contaminated and harmful to both aquatic animals and human health,” he said.

Again, he said when livestock fed on the ground or land that was contaminated by these metals, their products such as milk and meat would be poisoned and made unsafe for human consumption.

Pursuant to Ghana's obligations under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act, 2016 (Act 917) (the E-Waste Act) was passed to regulate the treatment of hazardous, electronic and electrical waste.

Act 917 defines e-waste as discarded electronic equipment inclusive of all components, subassemblies and consumables which are part of the product at the time of discarding. The E-waste Act requires importers, exporters, manufacturers and distributors to register with the EPA so as to facilitate the tracking and flow of electronic and electrical equipment (EEE).

To promote recycling of e-waste, the Act also requires manufacturers and distributors to take back used EEEs or e-waste they manufactured or sold. There is also an obligation to make sure that e-waste is recycled and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. 

In spite of this arrangement, hundreds of tonnes of near-waste EEE continue to be imported into the country, mainly from the United States of America (USA), Asia, Australia and Western Europe.

It is estimated that about 500 containers of these second-hand electronic products are imported every year, with a chunk that are not able to function under one year ending up in the hands of informal sector players.

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