Contamination due to lead, cadmium and other health-threatening pollutants were revealed at tests conducted at a school next to an informal electronic waste salvage site, in Accra, Ghana. The detected pollutants were over 50 times harmful 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.