Increasing e-waste impacting on health of children – WHO


***says statistics grew by 21 percent in 5yrs

By:Bamidele Fashube

The World Health Organization (WHO) in its
first report on e-waste and child health has called for more effective and binding action to protect children from growing health threats.

This, it said, was imperative to protect the millions of children, adolescents and expectant mothers worldwide whose health is jeopardized by the informal processing of discarded electrical or electronic devices.

In a statement,Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said, “With mounting volumes of production and disposal, the world faces what one recent international forum described as a mounting “tsunami of e-waste”, putting lives and health at risk.” said.

He said efforts put in to protect the seas and their ecosystems from plastic and microplastic pollution, should also be replicated in protecting children’s health from the growing threat of e-waste.

While quoting the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), the WHO said e-waste grew by 21% in five years up to 2019, when 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated.

It said the growth is projected to continue as the use of computers, mobile phones and other electronics continues to expand, alongside their rapid obsolescence.

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Also, it noted that about 2.9 million women are working in the informal waste sector, which potentially exposes them to toxic e-waste and puts them and their unborn children at risk.

It said more than 18 million children and adolescents, some as young as 5 years of age, are actively engaged in the informal industrial sector, of which waste processing is a sub-sector.

“Children are often engaged by parents or caregivers in e-waste recycling because their small hands are more dexterous than those of adults.

” Other children live, go to school and play near e-waste recycling centres where high levels of toxic chemicals, mostly lead and mercury, can damage their intellectual abilities,” it states.

The report noted that Children exposed to e-waste are particularly vulnerable to the toxic chemicals they contain due to their smaller size, less developed organs and rapid rate of growth and development.

” They absorb more pollutants relative to their size and are less able to metabolize or eradicate toxic substances from their bodies,” it said.

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On the Impact of e-waste on human health, health body said workers, aiming to recover valuable materials such as copper and gold, are at risk of exposure to over 1,000 harmful substances, including lead, mercury, nickel, brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

It said for an expectant mother, exposure to toxic e-waste can affect the health and development of unborn child for the rest of its life.

It identified potential adverse health effects to include negative birth outcomes, such as stillbirth and premature births, as well as low birth weight and length.

“Exposure to lead from e-waste recycling activities has been associated with significantly reduced neonatal behavioural neurological assessment scores, increased rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioural problems, changes in child temperament, sensory integration difficulties, and reduced cognitive and language scores.

“Other adverse child health impacts linked to e-waste include changes in lung function, respiratory and respiratory effects, DNA damage, impaired thyroid function and increased risk of some chronic diseases later in life, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease,” it read.

However, it said appropriate collection and recycling of e-waste is key to protecting the environment and reducing climate emissions.

It also calls on the health community to take action to reduce the adverse health effects from e-waste, by building health sector capacity to diagnose, monitor and prevent toxic exposure among children and women, raising awareness of the potential co-benefits of more responsible recycling, working with affected communities and advocating for better data and health research on the health risks faced by informal e-waste workers.

“Children and adolescents have the right to grow and learn in a healthy environment, and exposure to electrical and electronic waste and its many toxic components unquestionably impacts that right,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the WHO.

“The health sector can play a role by providing leadership and advocacy, conducting research, influencing policy-makers, engaging communities, and reaching out to other sectors to demand that health concerns be made central to e-waste policies.”

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