We recover gold, silver, others from Ewaste – Scavengers
… Dismantlers risk respiratory, neurological, other health issues – Expert
By Hauwa Ali and Dauda Abbas
Scavenging and dismantling of ewaste, especially discarded electrical gadgets, have not only become a means of livelihood to some individuals, it is also making then smile to the bank, NatureNews investigation has revealed.
The enterprise is, however, fraught with danger as those engaged in it stand the risk of respiratory problems, neurological disorders, kidney damage, reproductive issues and even cancer.
NatureNews reports that the harsh economy and unemployment situation have forced many Nigerian youths to join the electronic scrap business, where they buy spoilt, unwanted electronic items and dismantle for precious metals to be sold for further refining or exported to countries where they are in high demand.
Many Nigerians, according to NatureNews findings do not dispose of their spoilt or damaged electrical gadgets properly. They are most likely to dump them on the waste management operators, sell to itinerant refuse collectors or simply abandon such with the repairers or workmen.
It is, however, not uncommon to site young men and women or dump sites scavenging for this type of waste which they gather and sell to those who would break them down and salvage some parts they still consider useful.
It is not also unusual to encounter urchins and waste collectors scavenging around areas and places where these gadgets and electrical appliances are sold and repaired.
NatureNews investigations in Abuja revealed that in Nyanya and Zone 3 markets popularly known as GSM Village, it is not uncommon to encounter dump sites mostly littered with discarded electronic appliances.
One of our correspondents who visited these markets reported that scavengers he spoke with revealed that they only gather the items to sell to merchants who shipped them to Lagos.
Obinna Isioma, a trader in Abuja GSM Village told one of our correspondents that merchants who deal in ewaste usually buy from the scavengers and ferry their purchase to Lagos.
Ilyasu Abba, one of the scavengers at the Ikeja Computer Village, told Naturenews that from the electronic scraps they get gold, silver and other precious materials they use to make earrings and necklaces.
“We break the items and recover aluminium, copper or iron. We sell aluminium to people that make things with Aluminium. We take copper and iron to Apapa Ijora, where they use the copper to make earrings and necklaces. The iron, the melt them and use them to make iron rods for building houses. From Apapa, some of the items go to Badagry and they export some too.
“The panels that we remove, we sell them to white people who take them to their country to make another electronic and come sell it to us again at higher prices.”
On whether the job entails any known risk, Abba said: “Our work is not dangerous, I’ve been in this business for over 20years and I have not encountered any dangerous thing or chemical. Although when breaking some electronics, we hear a loud sound, but there’s no acid or anything coming out. Some people even come here and take our blood for testing, but there’s nothing, the results are normal.
“A lot of Chinese are involved in this business, if there’s anything they have all died. The most that has happened to me is weakness of the body,” he said.
Responding to the above claim of the scavenger, a medical expert and founder of Mainframe Diagnostics, Dr Olalekan Bello, said: “It is obvious that these people are unaware of the hazardous effects of their job. The effects are mostly long-term which affect up to 40% if not all of them. The challenging working conditions, lack of safety measures, and exposure to hazardous substances also contribute to increased stress levels and mental health problems among e-waste dismantlers and they may not be aware of the cause. They may experience anxiety, depression, and work-related stress, impacting their overall well-being and think it is normal.”
On whether the business is profitable Abba said: “There’s a lot of money in this business. A lot of youths are into the business now unlike before when people don’t want to join the business. There’s a man at Ijora, he can afford any house he wants in this Nigeria from this scrap business.”
Another scavenger, Yakubu Aadam, has this to say: “I make a lot of money. I have been here now for 19 years. Some of these panels you see, we sell one for over 7,000 naira for export and we sell a lot in a day.
“Before, if people finished school, they would wait for government jobs but now, after youth service, no one is waiting for any job. They join this business. There are a lot of graduates here. Some of them are in the market looking for scraps to buy and sell to us. Even women have joined in droves.”
Dr Bello, however, explained that exposure to the toxic chemicals present in e-waste could have severe health effects on both the workers involved in handling the waste and the nearby communities.
According to Bello, electronic devices often contain hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and various heavy metals and dismantlers often come into direct contact with these hazardous materials during the dismantling process, which increase their risk of exposure. Skin contact, inhalation of fumes or dust particles, and ingestion of these substances can also lead to acute or chronic health issues.
“These chemicals can lead to respiratory problems, neurological disorders, kidney damage, reproductive issues, and even cancer.
“This happens during the dismantling process which generates fine dust particles and fumes that are inhaled by the workers and prolonged inhalation of these pollutants can lead to respiratory problems, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, bronchitis, and aggravated asthma.
“Also, direct contact with the hazardous substances such as heavy metals and flame retardants, can cause skin irritation, dermatitis, rashes, and allergic reactions because some can penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, potentially leading to systemic health effects.
“For neurological disorders, exposure to certain toxic substances, such as lead and mercury, affects the nervous system, which may lead to neurological disorders, including cognitive impairment, memory loss, tremors, and neuropathy.”
Dr Bello explained that certain chemicals present in e-waste, such as lead and phthalates, had also been linked to reproductive problems as a result of prolonged exposure, affecting fertility.
He said it could also cause hormonal imbalances, and increase the risk of birth defects and developmental disorders in children.
“Certain flame retardants and heavy metals have carcinogenic properties and long-term exposure to these substances without proper protection and safety measures can increase the risk of various types of cancer, including lung, liver, kidney, and bladder cancer.”