By Moses Mugwisa
E-waste is a popular name for electronic products nearing the end of their useful life. Most of E-wastes are dangerous, as they contain components of some electronic products that are dangerous, depending on their condition and density.
Disposal of e-wastes such as discarded computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, fax machines, cellphones, batteries, audio equipment, electric lamps etc, posse a great environmental and health risk in Uganda and globally today as they are improperly disposed. These wastes can leach lead and other substances into the soil and ground water.
Most electronics contain what is called e-toxic components, for-example, computers contain circuit boards containing heavy metals of lead and cadmium, batteries containing cadmium, cathode ray with lead oxide and barium, brominated flames-retardants used on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing, poly vinyl chloride (PVC) coated copper cables and plastic computer casing that release highly toxic dioxins and furans when burnt to recover valuable metals, mercury switches, mercury in flats screens, poly chlorinated biphenyl’s (PCB’s) present in older capacitors, transformers e.t.c.
The Basel Convention Network estimates that 500 million computers in the world contain 2.87 billion kgs of plastics, 716.7 million kgs of lead and 286,700kgs of mercury.
The average 14-inch monitor uses a tube that contains an estimated 22.5 to 4 kgs of lead. And this lead can seep into the ground water from landfills and dumping grounds
Contaminated leachates from dumping grounds pollute ground water, acids and sludge from melting computer chips, if disposed on the ground causes acidification of soil.
Not only does the leaching of mercury poses specific problems, the evaporation of metallic mercury and dim ethylene mercury, both part of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is also of concern
In addition, uncontrolled fires, may arise at landfills and dumping grounds soon in Uganda, when exposed to fire, metals and other chemical substances, such as the extremely toxic dioxins and furans (TCDD tetrachloro dibenzo-dioxin, PCDDs-poly chlorinated dibenzodioxins, PBDDs-polybrominated dibenzo-dioxins and PCDFS-poly-chlorinated dibenzo furans) from halogenated flame retardant products and PCB containing condensers can be emitted
Open air burning of e-waste is dangerous not only to local coverage but also internationally. Toxic fall outs from open air burning affect the local environment and broader global air currents, depositing highly toxic products in many places throughout the world.
Some of computer wastes generated in kisenyi suburb
More important to note by the public is that when electronic items are discarded with household garbage, which is the case of our urban centres in Uganda, as they do not sort their wastes, the toxics pose a threat to the health and vital components of ecosystems like respiratory diseases, heart diseases and gradual decay of biodiversity in the environment
E-wastes discarded with garbage is more hazardous to human and environmental health
Uganda faces challenge of e -waste proper management as of current, due to lack of facilities to handle such wastes, lack of awareness among the public, poor policy and regulation enforcements, environment and public health neglection and ignorance of the negative effects of e-wastes.
Such old phones need collection centres in order for them no to be disposed into the environment rather go for recycling.
If the Government of Uganda and our leaders do not put in place efficient and effective e- waste management procedures, programmes and regulations to electronics that enter our country on every day basis, Uganda is likely to face underground water poisoning and deterioration of ecosystems, especially in urban centres and surrounding areas, if the e-wastes are not properly handled and managed in our surroundings.
For example, lead found in glass panels and gaskets in computer monitors, if taken in high concentrations can damage central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems and kidney, affects brain development of children.
Mercury found in relays and switches, printed circuits boards causes chronic damage to the brain, respiratory and skin disorders due to bio accumulation in fishes and many other health problems, if they are exposed to human and animal life.
The writer is an environmental science technologist with Green Organization Africa-Uganda