Experts say Electronic waste is harmful to human life and environment

Workers sort e-waste at the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Centre (WEEE) _Photo/Courtesy


By Andrew Ombuni

It’s 8.00am and we pay a courtesy call to our friend John Wafula, who runs a cyber café in Kakamega town.

Inside the cyber café, he also runs an electronic shop and has specialised in repair of mobile phones, radio and television sets, fridges and computers.

At the cyber café, Mr Wafula is pondering on how to get rid of a pile of used printer cartridges, mobile phones, computers and television sets.

The store where they were being kept is full and the dusty electronic waste he has accumulated for years now taking the remaining space of the cyber café and more a home for rats and pests.

Wafula’s biggest worry is how he will dispose of the outdated electronic machines at his shop before the entire cyber café gets filled up.

He  represents a fraction of Kenyans handling electronic items and unable to dispose them so that they are not a threat to the environment besides accumulating dust and housing rats.

Experts are now worried that e-waste is now a time bomb if not managed properly.

Kenya, which is among other developing countries, lacks the capacity to dispose of the discarded electronic gadgets which contain harmful substances that cause various ailments.

Many electronic gadgets that are imported into the countries such as mobile phones, refrigerators, computers, televisions, solar products and a host of other electronic appliances are manufactured using harmful substances that are a threat to the environment.

Speaking during a sensitization workshop on Resource Efficiency and Waste Management for Off-Grid Solar Products in Kenya (Rewmos) in Kakamega town yesterday, Joseph Oliech, the Projects and Training Manager at Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE Centre) said the harmful substances cause cardiovascular diseases.

Mr Oliech said some of the harmful substances used to manufacture electronic gadgets include lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and arsenic. Others are phthalates and brominated flame retardants.

“The substances help in the proper functioning of the electronic devices and you cannot do without them. That’s why you will find people who own electronic repair shops experience chest congestion and frequent stomachache,” said Oliech.

He said arsenic which a chemical element which is found in computer chips and light emitting diodes causes skin diseases such as skin cancer, lung cancer, diabetes and heart diseases.

“Cadmium which used in rechargeable acid batteries, fluorescent layers of CRT screens, printer inks and toners is the major cause of kidney failure and lung cancer. Chromium which is used in data tapes and floppy disks permanent eye damage,” said Mr Oliech.

He said selenium which is used in the manufacture of older photocopying machines (photo drums) leads to neurological abnormalities.

Oliech said the Lead and mercury that is used in the manufacture of alkaline batteries, printed wiring boards, mercury wetted switches and fluorescent lamps leads to the damage of the brain, kidney and liver and more so causes blood disorders.

He said when the chemicals contained in the electronic gadgets are leak into rivers, they destroy marine life.

“Kenya generates over 44,000 tons of electronic waste (e-waste) annually which end up polluting the environment. There is no law regulating such waste. Even the e-waste draft Bill of 2013 has been stuck in Parliament for more the last six years and no one is talking about it,” said Oliech.

But according to Chris Amutabi, Eco2Librium senior manager, time had come for Kenya through the Ministry of Environment should to start conducting a life cycle assessment of all electronic products before allowing them to enter into the country.

Mr Amutabi said majority of Kenyans were now suffering from cardiovascular diseases as a result of electronic products that have flooded the market, saying lack of proper legislation is also to blame for the menace.

Anne Theuri, an official from the National Environment Management Agency (Nema) said there was an increase in the number of electronic gadgets coming into the country, saying they are working on a legislation to regulate importation of such gadgets.

Ms Theuri said the government is also working on ways of collecting e-waste across the country so that it can be disposed of without appropriately.

The importation of electronic gadgets into the country has increased by at least 100 per cent over the last 20 years. In 2009, the government imposed a 25 per cent exercise duty on all imported refurbished computers and zero-rated new computers entering the country.