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Soaring e-waste affects the health of millions of children – WHO

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Soaring e-waste affects the health of millions of children – WHO

By Cecilia Ologunagba

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the health of children, adolescents and pregnant women around the world is threatened by the illegal processing of old electrical or electronic devices.

The WHO sounded the alarm on Tuesday in a landmark new report on the toxic threat, titled: “Children and digital dumps.

In a statement to coincide with the launch, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that the threat to health was increasing, alongside the “growing tsunami of electronic waste”.

“Just as the world has come together to protect the seas and their ecosystems from plastic and microplastic pollution, we must come together to protect our most precious resource – the health of our children – from the growing threat of waste. electronic, ”he said. added.

Discarded electronic devices or electronic waste has become the fastest growing category of household waste in the world, according to the United Nations Health Agency.

The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) said that of the 53.6 million tonnes produced globally in 2019, only 17.4% were recorded as collected and recycled appropriately.

Although the fate of the remaining electronic waste is unknown, it is unlikely that it was managed and recycled in an environmentally friendly manner.

While some e-waste ends up in landfills, significant amounts are often shipped illegally to low- and middle-income countries where informal workers, including children and adolescents, collect, dismantle or use acid baths to extract metals. and valuable waste materials discarded. elements.

WHO has said that about 12.9 million women working in the informal waste sector are potentially exposed, along with their unborn children, to toxic residues.

“In addition, more than 18 million young people worldwide, some of whom are only five years old, are said to be ‘actively engaged’ in the industrial sector at large, of which the treatment of electronic waste is only a small part. .

“Informal methods of disposing of electronic waste materials have been linked to a range of health effects, particularly in children.

“The recycling of electronic waste has a particular impact on those at vital stages of physical and neurological development, with children, adolescents and pregnant women being the most vulnerable.

“Children are more sensitive to toxic chemicals because they absorb pollutants relative to their size and, with not fully developed organs, are less able than adults to eradicate harmful substances,” he said.

According to WHO lead author Marie-Noel Drisse, mismanagement of e-waste is a growing problem that many countries do not yet recognize as a health problem.

Drisse warned that if action is not taken now, “its impacts will have a devastating effect on children’s health and weigh heavily on the health sector for years to come.”

The Children and Digital Dumps report examines the multiple dimensions of the problem, the practical steps the healthcare industry and other stakeholders can take to address the insidious health risk.

It calls for binding action by exporters, importers and governments to ensure environmentally sound disposal of e-waste and the health and safety of workers and communities.

The health sector is also called upon to reduce the harmful effects of electronic waste by strengthening the capacity to diagnose, monitor and prevent toxic exposures, and to advocate for better health data and research on the risks faced by patients. informal e-waste workers.

“Children and adolescents have the right to grow up and learn in a healthy environment, and exposure to electrical and electronic waste and their many toxic components clearly has an impact on this right.

“The health sector can play a role in providing leadership and advocacy, conducting research, influencing decision makers and engaging communities.

“It can also play a role in reaching out to other sectors to demand that health concerns be at the heart of e-waste policies,” said Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of the Environment , climate change and health. (NAA)

(NAN)

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