by Faridah Hussein Were
Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, University of Nairobi
Africa is facing a serious lead poisoning problem. In Senegal, for example, researchers linked the deaths of children from processing lead waste to supply a lead battery recycling plant in a poor suburb of Dakar.
In Kenya, the legacy of a shutdown lead-recycling plant is causing major health problems for people living in the neighbourhood. And in Nigeria an investigation by journalists showed how lead battery recycling facilities were poisoning workers and the people living in the area.
The problem is growing along with the market for lead batteries. This is due to lack of regulation and investment in environmentally sound battery recycling plants. Most facilities in Africa are small. They weren’t built with adequate pollution controls to prevent disasters and ongoing contamination.
The production of lead batteries is growing rapidly in Africa as the market for lead batteries expands. Global lead output continues to grow, with about 85% production going to make batteries.
We conducted a study around lead battery recycling plants in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Tunisia. Our results showed significant lead contamination around 15 licensed battery recycling plants. This shows that informal sector recycling is not the only source of lead pollution.