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Influx Of Used Electrical Appliances: Implication For Health, The Environment

By David Ogah, Nkechi Onyedika Ugoeze and Adeoye Temiloluwa
02 May 2015   |   11:39 pm
THE influx of second hand goods is fast becoming a source of concern to many Nigerians. The way and manner different second-hand items are being shipped into the country gives the impression of Nigeria as a dumping ground for products not needed in foreign countries

Scavengers at a dump site in Lagos

THE influx of second hand goods is fast becoming a source of concern to many Nigerians. The way and manner different second-hand items are being shipped into the country gives the impression of Nigeria as a dumping ground for products not needed in foreign countries.

The influx of second hand computers, printers, and electronic items, which the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) said could be dangerous to the environment and the health of residents, is most worrisome.

Experts say the electronic products do not only pollute the environment, they emit poisonous chemicals, like Mercury, bromide, Lead and Beryllium Oxide into the water table, making the water unsafe for consumption by humans and plants.

To protect the economy, the Federal Government placed a ban on importation of used clothes, refrigerators, compressors, two stroke generators and other items that could harm the economy.

Electronic products were left out in the Import prohibition list, making Nigeria a free market place for the items The result is what the country is experiencing today: the dumping ground for electronic items, and custom officials have been unable to explain how these items come into the country.

Used television, telephones, computers and other electrical appliances are being shipped into the country without any measure of control. Most worrisome is the fact that most of them have become obsolete.

They end up in the dustbin after a few years of usage by the eventual buyer, to cause environmental hazard in the neighbourhood. Buyers and sellers of second hand electronic items told The Guardian they buy them because of the cost, which is lower than the piece of brand new items.

Jacob Uzoma, a trader at Lawanson, who deals on second-hand electronic items, told The Guardian that he decided to go into the business because of its high turnover.

“ The turn over is good, People prefer second hand items because they are cheap and before I can sell one new Television, I would have sold 10 second hand types.” Uzoma said, “We buy these items from importers of vehicles.

What they do is that they load the vehicles with all these appliances before shipment. When the cars arrive Nigeria, they are cleared as vehicles; the items come with them ” he said Kehinde Adesuwa said at Lawanson, where she was negotiating for a piece of second hand compressor, that second fridges and compressors are usually more durable that new ones, besides their low prices. Chibuzor Eze, who spoke with The Guardian at Alaba international market said: “to buy a brand new television is very expensive, but with seven thousand, you can get a very good second hand Television from China.

They are less expensive than the big names we have around.” The National President, Council of Managing Director of Customs Licensed Agents, Lucky Amiwero, debunked claims that Nigeria is being used as dumping ground for foreign items, especially electronic products.

He said the importation of different items into the country was in the spirit of World trade Organisation (WTO). According to him, some items in Nigerian market are legitimately imported since they are not in the country’s import prohibition list.

Of the items, he said only refridgerator and second hand clothing are on the prohibition list. ‘”You can only ban an item through fiscal policy. Some items could be on banned list for security reason. These are called absolute prohibition. Others could be banned to protect primary industry. So no agency can, on its own, ban an item.

“Fridges, whether new or second hand are under import prohibition. Banning is not even in accordance with the spirit of WTO. So the word dumping is not applicable in this context. Dumping is when you produce something in your country at high cost and you export them to another country enmasse at low cost. Dumping has a procedure under WTO contracting countries.”

To Aminwero, what Nigerian authorities should be concerned about is the quality of items being imported, not their importation. “if you are talking about the quality of what they are bringing in, that should be the duty of Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the Nigeria Customs service.

They have to check for the quality before they are shipped. The United States of America has its customs men in countries where they are expecting goods.

That way, they can check the influx of poor quality goods.” The Public Relations Officer, Tin-Can command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Chris Osunkwo said many of the E-waste items are smuggled into the country.

“There has never been a time in the history of Nigeria when the restriction or checks on used items, particularly E-waste had been better. We have been collaborating with National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to wage war on obsolete items.

Even if 50,000 customs officers hold hands and stand round the borders, they won’t be enough to cover the country, that is why Electronic items are still being smuggled into the country.

According to him, the phenomenon cannot be attributed to porous border as no known nation in the world has succeeded in eradicating trans border smuggling, “but the best they can do is to bring it to the barest minimum.”

He said “there is no law prohibiting the importation of used electronic goods, if government today decides to prohibit the items, then the customs can enforce it.

The customs as a government agency derive their function from customs and excise management act. The government considered using the United States of America (USA) system, where the customs have representatives in many countries that examine items that will be shipped to the US and stop them from leaving that country, but the system will cost Nigerian government more money.

So a campaign was carried out through foreign missions, informing countries that outlawed items will be shipped back to the owner, and that is the latest system in place to checkmate electronic waste,”

He said, adding that most of the challenges with e-waste articles are policy oriented. The Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) said last Friday that, although e-waste products have been adjudged to be substandard and dangerous to health and the environment, it has no control over their importation.

The organisation said more than 80 per cent of the products are being shipped into the country through the seaports, where its presence had since been reduced to zero, due to government policy.

The Head Of Compliance at the Apapa Office of SON, Obayi Bede, an engineer, told The Guardian that SON was aware of the influx of the e-waste products, but it was helpless about it since officials from the organisation have been banned from entering port premises. “We are not in the ports, so we cannot get information on their imports.

Some of the importers normally describe them as plastic materials or household items, and that is how 80 per cent of them are coming in through the ports. Because of this, we cannot effectively control their imports.”

According to him, “no country would want to use Nigeria as a dumping ground for the items, but “our brothers continue to visit dump sites abroad, pick them and ship them to Nigeria as fairly used electronics. I don’t think NESREA is at the ports too.

So, who will prevent them from coming into the country?” He asked. Kosiso Nwachukwu, a medical doctor, who spoke on the matter, said: “there is an expected life span for every electrical item that comes into the country. Due to the nature of the old parts, some undergo wear and tear. The parts of electrical appliances that are meant to protect the end user become harmful.

E waste is capable of poisoning the user and everyone close to it. Lead exerts toxic effects on some parts of the body. Nickel and Mercury are used to make batteries, which are also a very poisonous.

Most electronic devices emit radiation. Exposure to these can lead to malignant conditions. Radiation is a risk factor for cancer when one is exposed to It.”, he said Doctor Chimezie Anyakora, an expert in environmental pollution, defined E-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) as discarded computers, office electronic equipment, mobile phones, television sets and refrigerators that are meant for re-cycling.

Although he agreed with other experts on the health implication to humans and the living environment, the problem is being tackled at a global level. According to him, in 1989, during a diplomatic conference in Basel, Switzerland, a global agreement aimed to limiting the export of hazardous waste, including e-waste, to developing countries was adopted.

He said the Basel Convention on the Control of the Trans boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal was mainly created to prevent the economically motivated dumping of hazardous wastes from richer to poorer countries.

Giving the reason for the inflow of the e – waste items, Chimezie said the Basel convention was yet to come into force, as it has not been ratified by the pre-determined limit of 62 Parties.

The Director in charge of Enforcement and Inspection at NESREA, Mirinda Amachree, said that the Agency had stepped up action to arrest the situation, saying that about 15 Containers and 9 trucks of e-waste were intercepted and repatriated to their ports of origin in the last four years.

He said the Belgian partners of the agency also apprehended several containers and trucks of e-waste illegally destined for Nigeria, which were sent back for recycling in Europe.

Amachree hinted that illegal shipment and disposal of hazardous waste (e-Waste) remain an environmental crime, as they are hazardous to human health.

She noted that at inception, NESREA was confronted with huge illegal shipment of e-waste, adding that in tackling the issue, the agency is currently working with the united States Environmental Protection Agency, UK Environmental Agency, Germany, International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), resulting in intelligence information dissemination to the agency, which led to apprehension and repatriation of several containers of e-waste.

According to her, Nigeria is a party to Basel Convention on the Transboundary movement of hazardous waste and their disposal.   The enforcement Director said her agency had already provided guidelines for the importation of Used Electrical Electronic Equipment (UEEE) for Nigerians to observe in their business transaction with their foreign partners.

Meanwhile, a National Toxic Waste Dump Watch Programme Committee (NTWDW) had been put in place by the Federal Government to monitor and check clandestine importation and dumping of hazardous substances in Nigeria.

The committee members were drawn from the Nigerian Navy, Police, and the Department for State Security (DSS), Nigeria Customs Service, NESREA, Nigerian Ports Authority and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) among others.

Amachree disclosed that NESREA is currently working with manufacturers of electronic products to ensure the establishment of collection points where consumers would return end of life electrical electronic equipment purchased from them.

She stated that e-waste not only pollutes the environment but also have serious health implications due to chemical leaching into the water table, eventually making its way to agricultural produce and into people.

The Lagos State coordinator of NESREA, Mrs. Eunice Eze emphasized the need for the hazardous items, like electronics to be repatriated to the country of origin because of the inability of Nigeria to recycle the items due to the non-availability of the required facility.

A lecturer and Chemist in the Department of Geology, University of Benin, Joel AitalokhaiEdegbai said e-waste has great negative impact on the environment and human health.

He said they contain compounds known to be toxic and radioactive in nature, adding that these chemical compounds have been identified as one of the causes of cancer.

According to him, “A single personal computer contains about 700 different chemical components, including toxic metals(Mercury, lead,gallium, germanium, nickel, palladium, Belgium, selenium, arsenic and others.

Batteries and electronic switch in toys make up between 10 and 20per cent of heavy metals in our waste stream.The contaminants can find their way into the environment during waste disposal,” he said.