Green Cross Switzerland completes lead battery clean up in Senegal

Green Cross Switzerland, with the support of DDC (Cooperative Development Direction) and Senegalese NGO, AfricaClean, has completed a project to decontaminate the suburbs of Dakar, Senegal.  This area was massively polluted by the informal recycling of lead batteries, which leached toxic lead into the environment.  In addition to the clean up, the project aimed to develop alternative ways for people in the region to earn money, steering them away from the practice of harmful battery dumping in the future.

In West Africa, lead battery recycling is an important source of revenue for many poor families.  In 2008, in the village of Thiaroye-sur-Mer, a flood ravaged suburb of Dakar, empoverished families found salvation and profit in recycling lead batteries.  Old car batteries were cracked open with pickaxes, the battery acid poured on the ground and the blocks of lead extracted and then melted down into bars.  The large scale acid dumping and leakage of lead on the ground led to contamination in this village and surrounding communities and many people fell ill; children were especially susceptible, dozens of them hospitalized.  On average, children from Thiaroye-sur-Mer and surrounding villages were contaminated with more than 100 micrograms per deciliter of lead and several were poisoned with more than 350 micrograms per deciliter.  More than 35 people died due to lead poisoning.

More than 4000 square meters of contaminated soil were removed to avoid futher deaths.  80 homes had to be decontaminated two times and more than 100 children had persistent issues linked to lead poisoning.  The removal of lead polluted soil had to be conducted before the rainy season began, to avoid groundwater contamination.  The second clean-up phase was overseen in collaboration with the Senegalese government, which ensured safe removal and proper storage of all the toxic lead soil.

To ensure that the population of Thiaroye-sur-Mer could be protected in the future from lead pollution, the housing decontamination was organized in collaboration with interested stakeholders and the public was educated on the risks of dumping lead batteries.  During this time, a small battery dumping operation opened its doors, displaying the techniques used to extract lead from car batteries, helping authorities create informed assessment groups, charged with evaluating each dump site to ensure the pollution would not be repeated.  Programs targeting women’s education were also created, giving them alternative methods to provide enough money to support their families.

The Senegalese Ministry of Health evaluated that around 30,000 people, including 5,000 children, were exposed to high health risks due to the informal recycling of batteries.  The incident at Thiaroye-sur-Mer pushed the government to introduce new regulatory legislation concerning the treatment of recycled lead-acid battery storage and collection, enacted on September 16, 2010.  Thanks to this legislation, a new model of lead-acid battery recycling was created for the entire region, respecting the environment and humanity.

Lead is the most toxic pollutant on earth.

The “World’s Worst Pollution Problems Report”, conducted by Green Cross and the Blacksmith Institute in 2010, shows the extent of pollution and global spread of each environmental pollutant, including the origin of each toxic substance.  Lead is one of the six most dangerous toxins to human health.  The other five include arsenic, chrome, pesticides, mercury and radioactive substances.  (Source: the six most dangerous pollutants of 2010)  Sources of lead include lead in gasoline for combustion engines, metal furnaces, informal lead-acid battery recycling, like in thiaroye-sur-Mer, lead weights for fishing, lead paints and ceramiques as well as lead mattress coverings to protect from radiation.  Because of its versatility and far-reaching use, lead poses a major health risk for man.

Green Cross Switzerland is committed to controlling consecutive catastrophic damage caused by industrial and military waste and also favors access to drinking water through its Water for Life and Peace programme.  Improving the quality of life for people touched by chemical contamination or irradiation is as the forefront of our work as well as promoting sustainable development along the lines of cooperation rather than confrontation.  The objectives of the environmentally certified organisation, ZEWO, are supported by the Green Cross parliamentary group.  This group is composed of 26 state Consultants/Advisors and 66 Consultants/Advisors from national parties.  Based in Geneva, Switzerland, Green Cross International was founded in 1993 by ex-President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

For more information please contact Dr. Stephan Robinson, director Green Cross Switzerland’s water and disarmament programs at +41613829197 or his mobile number +41796256467

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