Friday, June 27, 2008

Hidden Flow

The rising tide of European e-waste in West Africa

e-waste: West Africa continues to drown in the rich world's obsolete electronics

  • Half a million PCs arrive in Lagos every month, only 1 in 4 work

  • Millions of tons of e-waste dumped on developing world despite ban

  • Monitoring of export process called in to question

This investigative report was undertaken by DanWatch, with help from the Danish Consumer Council

Download the report

Despite new European regulations to prevent electronic waste from being dumped in Africa and Asia, a hidden flow of end-of-life electronics is threatening to drown West Africa.

Consumers International (CI) is calling for tighter government monitoring and greater corporate responsibility to prevent the effective dumping of toxic electronics on the developing world.

The call comes after investigations indicate around half a million second-hand computers are dumped on Nigeria every month.

Although the exporting of used-electronics is legal, local experts say 75 per cent of PCs that arrive are obsolete and quickly end up on toxic dumps around Lagos.

This is just the tip of the 6.6 millions tons of unaccounted-for e-waste that leaves EU countries each year.

6.6 million tons of e-waste is missing

Every month, hundreds of tons of obsolete computers, televisions and other household consumer electronics are arriving at ports in Ghana and Nigeria. From here, the second-hand electronics are distributed via local networks of dealers throughout the country.

According to local Ghanaian and Nigerian sources interviewed by CI's partner organisation, DanWatch, as few as one in four of the imports are working, while the remaining electronic waste, also known as e-waste, often ends up on dumpsite fires.

"Ghana is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for waste from Europe and the US. We are talking about several tons of obsolete discarded computers, monitors etc. We don't have the mechanism or the system in place in this country to recycle these wastes. Some of these items come in under the guise of donations, but when you examine the items they don't work," said Mike Anane, Director of the League of Environmental Journalists in Ghana.

The arrival of flat-screen televisions and TFT-monitors on consumer markets in the USA and in Europe has set off a flood of old CRT-television sets spilling into Africa. Burning e-waste, Ghana. Image by DanWatch

In the port cities of Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria, the change in European consumer habits is clearly visible as old-fashioned CRT-television sets are lined up along the streets by their thousands.

Each year, European consumers are producing 8.7 million tons of e-waste. Despite the Basel Ban Amendment under the Basel Convention, which forbids the export of e-waste from developed to developing countries, only 25 per cent of this e-waste is recycled. Approximately 6,6 million tons is unaccounted for and a significant part of this is dumped in countries outside the rich world.

Local experts, politicians and campaigners fear the enormous influx of obsolete electronics is posing a serious long term threat to the environment and to human health.

In West Africa, refuse is often disposed of in fires. It is not unusual that waste collectors will destroy the cathode ray tubes, and burn the wires and circuit boards inside, to get to the copper wires and other metals, which can be resold.

However, the costs to the environment and to human health are too high, says Professor Oladele Osibanjo, Director at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa.

"We have about half a million computers, used computers, coming into the Lagos port every month, and only 25 per cent of these are working. 75 per cent is junk. The volume is so large, that the people who trade it, just burn it like ordinary refuse. Our studies have shown that the levels of metals in this waste are far beyond the threshold limits set by Europe."

Unwitting contributors

As part of investigations in West Africa, DanWatch visited dumpsites, where computers from institutions such as Westminster City Council and The World Bank were piled up together with computers from numerous European, American and Asian companies in literally mountains of e-waste.

At one site on the outskirts of Accra, clouds of black smoke rose from several fires, as boys, some as young as ten years old, ignored the toxic fumes to get to the precious metal scraps beneath the melting e-waste:

"The lead, the mercury and all the other toxins bio-accumulate. That is to say, they stay in the food chain. The people that break open these CRT-monitors tell me that they suffer from nausea, headaches and chest- and respiratory problems. As a result of breaking these things and burning the wires they inhale a lot of fumes. Sometimes you even find children breaking these cathode ray tubes apart just to get the wires and other metals to sell," said Mike Anane.

Exporters are able to ship e-waste by exploiting a loophole in European legislation which allows 'end-of-life' electronic goods to be exported as working products. Even NGOs are sometimes unwillingly involved in the trade, when large quantities of mobile phones and computers are donated to help schools and institutions. Monitor Mountain in Ghana. Image from DanWatch

In one case, a UK-based organisation offered to donate 10,000 computers to a Nigerian NGO. However, only 2,000 of the computers proved to be functioning: "This is why we believe there is a need for tighter regulation in the EU and USA," said Professor Oladele Osibanjo of the Basel Regional Centre.

"The adverse effects override the potential gain. We are being made a dumping ground for electronic waste under the guise of bridging the divide and trying to make the poor have access to ICT," he said.

Professor Osibanjo at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa calls for urgent measures to stem the tide of obsolete electronics flowing into Africa: "I think that countries within the EU and other developed countries have to put in place a mechanism whereby only tested and certified computers that can actually offer some useful life are allowed to come in here."

The hidden flow of e-waste from Europe to Africa mounts by the day. Unless EU countries enforce regulations that are set aside in the Basel Convention, the environmental pollution from toxic dump sites in Ghana and Nigeria will simply continue to grow.

What can be done?

Toxic electronic dumping on the developing world is outlawed in countries signed up to the Basel Ban. As a first step Consumers International calls on non-signatories such as Australia, Canada and the US to ratify the Basel convention and implement it in national legislation.

However, the 6.6 million tons of e-waste from the EU that cannot be accounted for appears to be ending up in places like Ghana and Nigeria. Much of this waste is coming in to these countries under the guise of legitimate used-computer donations, which bypasses the Basel Ban.

It is clear that exporting countries need tougher monitoring to ensure donated electronic goods are in meaningful working order. Obsolete electrical equipment should be disposed or recycled in the country of origin using environmentally sustainable methods.

Electronic manufacturers and retailers also have a responsibility to stop using hazardous material in the production of electronic equipment. In many cases, safer alternatives currently exist and these should be actively sourced.

Furthermore, consumers should not be expected to bear the cost of recycling old electrical goods. Manufacturers should take full life cycle responsibility for their products and, once they reach the end of their useful life, take their goods back for re-use, safe recycling or disposal.

Consumers should be able to trust manufactures and government legislation to ensure that, when they do the right thing and hand in used electronic equipment, it is not dumped in the developing world.

Reseach and fieldwork for this report was carried out by DanWatch. DanWatch is a corporate watchdog working to document the exploitation of labour, environment and natural resources in developing nations hosting western workplaces, investments, trade and production. The organisation is co-founded and co-funded by the Danish Consumer Council.

~ Consumers International ~

No ice at the North Pole

It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.

The disappearance of the Arctic sea ice, making it possible to reach the Pole sailing in a boat through open water, would be one of the most dramatic – and worrying – examples of the impact of global warming on the planet. Scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well have melted away by the summer.

"From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water," said Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

If it happens, it raises the prospect of the Arctic nations being able to exploit the valuable oil and mineral deposits below these a bed which have until now been impossible to extract because of the thick sea ice above.

Seasoned polar scientists believe the chances of a totally icefreeNorth Pole this summer are greater than 50:50 because the normally thick ice formed over many years at the Pole has been blown away and replaced by hugeswathes of thinner ice formed over a single year.

This one-year ice is highly vulnerable to melting during thesummer months and satellite data coming in over recent weeksshows that the rate of melting is faster than last year, when therewas an all-time record loss of summer sea ice at the Arctic.

"The issue is that, for the first time that I am aware of, the NorthPole is covered with extensive first-year ice – ice that formed last autumn and winter. I'd say it's even-odds whether the North Pole melts out," said Dr Serreze.

Each summer the sea ice melts before reforming again during the long Arctic winter but the loss of sea ice last year was so extensive that much of the Arctic Ocean became open water, with the water-ice boundary coming just 700 miles away from the North Pole.

This meant that about 70 per cent of the sea ice present this spring was single-year ice formed over last winter. Scientists predict that at least 70 per cent of this single-year ice – and perhaps all of it – will melt completely this summer, Dr Serreze said.

~ read on... ~


Gov't says FBI agents can't testify about 9/11

Government lawyers say the ongoing investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks could be compromised if the airline industry is allowed to seek more information from the FBI to defend itself against lawsuits brought by terrorism victims.

In papers filed late Tuesday, the government urged a judge to block aviation companies from interviewing five FBI employees who the companies say will help them prove the government withheld key information before the 2001 attacks.

The lawyers said it would be impossible to interview the employees without disclosing classified or privileged material that could "cause serious damage to national security and interfere with pending law enforcement proceedings."

"The harm described is not hypothetical and cannot be lightly dismissed," according to the court papers submitted by the office of U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia. "Investigators continue to seek out those parties responsible for the 9/11 attacks who remain at large."

The largest investigation in FBI history has resulted in 167,000 interviews and more than 155,000 pieces of evidence and involved the pursuit of 500,000 investigative leads, the lawyers wrote.

They said the aviation lawyers were unrealistic to think the investigation would not be compromised if they speak to the FBI employees.

"In fact, it is not possible to disentangle the classified from the unclassified information in the context of a deposition, where open-ended inquiries may elicit responses in which classified or privileged material is intertwined," they wrote.

~ read on... ~


Federal prosecutors agree to release some Rosenberg grand jury records

Responding to a petition filed in January by the National Security Archive and several leading U.S. historical associations for the release of grand jury records from the 1951 indictment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, federal prosecutors in New York conceded that a substantial portion of the grand jury materials could be made public after more than 55 years.

In a court filing this week, the government said it would not oppose the release of transcripts and other materials for 35 of the 45 witnesses who testified before the grand jury that in 1951 indicted the Rosenbergs, who were accused of running an espionage ring that passed American atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, convicted of spying, and executed in 1953. The 35 witnesses are either deceased or consented to the disclosure. In its filing, the government agreed that the Rosenberg case is of "significant historical importance" and therefore the materials are covered by a special exception to the longstanding rule that grand jury records must remain secret indefinitely.

"The government's decision to open the bulk of the Rosenberg transcripts marks an important historic turning point," said Archive director Tom Blanton. "In every prior case, the government has steadfastly resisted release of any grand jury records, regardless of their importance."

The government challenges the release of materials related to the other 10 witnesses, who could not be located or said they opposed disclosure. Among those who did not consent is David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg's brother, who allegedly passed nuclear secrets from the Los Alamos research facility to the Rosenbergs. The government also opposes the requested release of grand jury materials from the related Cold War spy case of Abraham Brothman and Miriam Moskowitz, asserting that the historical interest in that case is not significant enough to justify disclosure.

According to David C. Vladeck, lawyer for the petitioners, "While petitioners appreciate the government's decision not to object to releasing many of the grand jury transcripts, we do not believe that the government has gone far enough. Most, if not all, of the transcripts the government claims should remain secret also should be made public." For example, David Greenglass has already told his story to Sam Roberts, who published Greenglass' account in his book, The Brother. Similarly, there is no reason why the Brothman/Moskowitz grand jury testimony should not be made public; historians have long called it a 'rehearsal' for the Rosenberg trial, involving the same charges, the same witnesses, the same judge, and the same prosecutors.

The petitioners include the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the American Historical Association, the American Society for Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and New York Times reporter Sam Roberts.

~ The National Security Archive ~



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