The World Health Organization (WHO) has disclosed that over 18 million children and adolescents are being exposed to toxic e-waste globally.
The specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health while giving the statistics on Tuesday during the launch of its first report on e-waste and child health noted that some of the affected children are as young as 5 years.
In the report, titled: “Children and Digital Dumpsites,” WHO noted that the affected children are actively engaged in the informal industrial sector, one of which waste processing is a sub-sector.
It added that 12.9 million women are working in the informal waste sector, which it noted potentially exposes them to toxic e-waste and puts them and their unborn children at risk.
It noted that children are often engaged by parents or caregivers in e-waste recycling because their small hands are more dexterous than those of adults.
“Other children live, go to school and play near e-waste recycling centers where high levels of toxic chemicals, mostly lead and mercury, can damage their intellectual abilities.
“Children exposed to e-waste are particularly vulnerable to the toxic chemicals they contain due to their smaller size, less developed organs and rapid rate of growth and development.
“They absorb more pollutants relative to their size and are less able to metabolize or eradicate toxic substances from their bodies,” it stated.
In his words, WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said the world faces a mounting problem of e-waste which is putting many lives and health at risk.
“With mounting volumes of production and disposal, the world faces what one recent international forum described as a mounting “tsunami of e-waste,” putting lives and health at risk.
“In the same way the world has rallied to protect the seas and their ecosystems from plastic and microplastic pollution, we need to rally to protect our most valuable resource –the health of our children – from the growing threat of e-waste.”
The global health organization said workers aiming to recover valuable materials such as copper and gold, are at risk of exposure to over 1,000 harmful substances, including lead, mercury, nickel, brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Charting way forward WHO said action is urgently required to protect the millions of children, adolescents and expectant mothers worldwide whose health states are jeopardised by the informal processing of discarded electrical or electronic devices.
“Children and adolescents have the right to grow and learn in a healthy environment, and exposure to electrical and electronic waste and its many toxic components unquestionably impacts that right.
“The health sector can play a role by providing leadership and advocacy, conducting research, influencing policy-makers, engaging communities, and reaching out to other sectors to demand that health concerns be made central to e-waste policies,” said Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the WHO.