- MV Piraeus Voys has been detained and docked at the port of Mombasa, Kenya.
- The ship, en route from Mumbai, India to Tanzania, East Africa, was allegedly laden with harmful nuclear waste.
- The ship’s cargo manifest declares its cargo to be ‘padlocks and other hardware items.’
In December 2021, Kenyan officials detained the Danish-flagged MV Piraeus Voys at the Mombasa Port but later cleared the vessel after conducting tests.
Mystery surrounded the vessel’s presence and destination which was loaded in India on December 2.
The detention came since Kenya is a signatory to the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding obligating members to prevent, intercept, interdict and combat trafficking of radioactive and nuclear material.
Scenario 1: (Radioactive Cargo) MV Piraeus Voys was detained and docked at the port of Mombasa and its cargo was a matter of contention. Allegedly the ship, en route from Mumbai, India to Tanzania, East Africa, is laden with harmful nuclear waste.
The ship’s cargo manifest declares its cargo to be ‘padlocks and other hardware items.’ As it turns out ‘other hardware items’ just happen to be radioactive material that is emitting high radiation! 1
Scenario 2: (The Conspiracy) Africa is increasingly becoming a dumping site for Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE). Be it intentionally by unscrupulous businesses, or unwittingly by devious traders through the sale of used, fake and substandard electronics.
Scenario 3: (The Reality) When this EEE end up in a dump, they become not only solid waste but owing to the toxic content that they contain or due to the use of toxins like acids or by burning them to obtain precious metals that they contain inside, the EEE become hazardous to the environment and the people.
According to the Global E-Waste Monitor (GEM) estimates, the annual consumption of new EEE in developing countries increases by 10 per cent to 25 per cent annually.
Maybe we should first define e-waste: Electronic and electrical equipment (e-waste) consist of used and discarded electrical and electronic items ranging from refrigerators to cell phones and circuit boards in radios, TVs and computers.
The only trouble is how to safely dispose of e-waste. In Africa, e-waste is usually and unsafely dismantled for the valuable metals inside, but the methods used cause significant human exposure to toxic substances and directly damage the environment.
Unfortunately, very few African countries have enacted e-waste-specific policies and legislation. For example in, according to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Tanzania has no specific policy on e-waste management. However, there are a number of policies that aim at protecting the environment and human health and that are relevant to e-waste management e.g. The Sustainable Industrial Development Policy (1996 –2020), National Environment Policy (1997), National Water Policy (2002); National Energy Policy, National Health Policy and the National Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Policy (all of 2003).
While governments get around to formulating legislation on how to safely manage e-waste, it seems that the most reasonable solution is to hold the manufacturers responsible.
According to the Tanzania National E-Waste Statistics Report (2019), “Most African countries are currently developing various models of Extended Producer Responsibilities (EPR) schemes as part of their solution to the e-waste problem,” reads the report in part.
Findings from this report indicate amount of EEE put on the market in Tanzania Mainland has increased from 21,692 tonnes in 1998 to 47,504 tonnes in 2017. E-waste generated has increased from about 2000 tonnes in 1998 to 35,755, tonnes in 2017.
While increased use of EEE on one hand means proliferation of ICT equipment, be it cell phones or computers and which in turn translates to development, growing middle class and even access to information and financing, it does however also mean increased e-waste and the related devastating environmental impact as well as the related health risks.
For example, as use of solar energy through panels, solar lights and other gadgets, this comes with increase in expired lead-acid batteries and lithium batteries that power these gadgets.
I should point out that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that scavengers also go for car batteries from which they dump heavy lead acid into the ground. They do so without any safety gear and more often than not, they do it bare-handed.
According to a report from a paper published in 2018 in the Journal of Scientific Research and Reports, water and soil around Dar es Salaam’s Msimbazi River are already polluted from battery, steel, paint, food processing and other factory waste. According to the report, this determination came about after samples from the river showed extremely high levels of chromium, copper and lead, far above the World Health Organization’s safety levels.
To make matters worse, water from the river is used to irrigate nearby vegetable fields.
“E-waste has become an important environmental and public health issue, not only at a global scale but also in low- and middle-income countries as well. Many of the (EEE) contain hazardous chemicals and materials. For this reason, inadequacies in recycling and disposing of electronic waste (e-waste) can cause serious health and environmental pollution problems,” reads the Tanzania National E-Waste Statistics Report 2019 (NEWSR, 2019).
The NEWSR, 2019 is the first comprehensive analytical report on e-waste statistics in Tanzania. Notably, there is no specific e-waste management law but there is however, the Environmental Management Act (EMA) that does address e-waste in part and does serve as the principle legislation for environment conservation and protection in Tanzania. The Act sets out legal basis for administration and institutional framework for sustainable management of the environment.
Tsunami of E-Waste: Environmental and Health Concerns of E-Waste
Toxic substances that are contained in e-waste contaminate the soil; however, they do not stop with the topsoil.
Heavy metals such as mercury, lithium, lead and barium leak through the earth all the way to the table water contaminating groundwater.
Now groundwater is the basic source of all water that we consume because groundwater is the water that eventually resurfaces as springs, ponds, streams, rivers and lakes.
“Acidification can kill marine and freshwater organisms, disturb biodiversity and harm ecosystems. If acidification is present in water supplies, it can damage ecosystems to the point where recovery is questionable, if not impossible,”
Electronic waste contains toxic components that are dangerous to human health, such as mercury, lead, barium and lithium to mention but a few. When ingested in any way or form, these chemicals have very dire health effects on the human brain, heart, liver, kidneys and even damage the overall skeletal system.
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 as stated by Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“A child who eats just one chicken egg from Agbogbloshie, a waste site in Ghana, will absorb 220 times the European Food Safety Authority daily limit for intake of chlorinated dioxins,” said Marie-Noel Brune Drisse, WHO Lead Researcher.
“Improper e-waste management is the cause. This is a rising issue that many countries do not recognize yet as a health problem. If they do not act now, its impacts will have a devastating health effect on children and lay a heavy burden on the health sector in the years to come,” she warns.
Scenario 4 (Stillbirths): Further still, these chemicals can severely affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body, leading to disease and birth defects, something that Africa knows all too well about.
1 ‘The Citizen‘ Tanzania seeking information on ‘nuclear waste’ ship detained in Mombasa (Dec 21 2021)