Protecting Every Child's Potential in Ghana
Creating a lead-poisoning free future for every child in Ghana
Globally, up to 800 million children have blood levels indicative of lead poisoning.
Lead is a naturally occurring element found in the earth's crust. While it can be beneficial to use, it is also toxic and can cause long-term health effects.
Lead poisoning in babies and children under the age of five damages their brains before they have had the opportunity to fully develop, leading to lifelong neurological, cognitive and physical impairment.
Informal, illegal and unsafe recycling of lead-acid batteries is one of the biggest causes of lead exposure in areas where children play, live and go to school.
On 30 July 2020, US non-profit Pure Earth, Clarios Foundation, and UNICEF announced a three-year partnership to work together as founding partners of the Protecting Every Child’s Potential (PECP) initiative to prevent children’s exposure to lead.
This partnership aims to mobilize international action and prevent children’s exposure to lead from informal, illegal, substandard lead-acid battery manufacturing, recycling and smelting processes and other sources.
Ghana is one of the first countries which will be implementing PECP projects in collaboration with the three founding partners.
One of the world largest electronic waste dumping ground is in Accra, Ghana (Agbogloshie). Most of this e-waste is shipped from the United States, Japan, and Europe.
As a means of economic sustenance for Ghanaians who earn lower incomes, this e-waste is burnt at the dumping sites to recover metals for sale. Documented analysis of soil samples indicates lead levels as high as 56% above the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standards within the perimeter of these e-waste handling grounds.
Besides Ghana’s unique situation as an e-waste hub, the country’s rapid development and industrialization as a lower middle-income country is also contributing to heavy metal pollution. Heavy metal pollution especially from lead, which was previously recognized as an occupational poison has moved beyond the workplace into air, water and soil due to its increased use.
Artisans in the informal automotive industries, particularly in Accra and Kumasi work in dangerous recycling operations breaking open battery cases, spilling acid and lead dust into the soil, and smelting the recovered lead in crude, open-air furnaces that emit toxic fumes poisoning the surrounding community.
Unfortunately, some Ghanaian children are growing up inhaling dust and fumes from informal used lead-acid battery recycling operations and open-air smelters, playing, and even working, in lead-laced e-waste dumps in the cities.
In addition exposure to lead poisoning from the use of paint in the construction industry is little known and poses a danger to children who touch walls or may ingest paint peeling from them.
The resultant effect of this situation is the reported increase in pollution related mortality. For example, a Lancet publication in 2016 on Global Burden of Disease estimated that about 29,379 lives were lost in Ghana as a result of pollution. This constitutes about 16% of all deaths in the country.
Exposure to lead can have serious adverse impacts on a child's health. It can can damage the child's brain and nervous system, lead to stunted growth, cause behavioural and learning challenges and hearing and speech-related issues.
Lead poisoning is preventable.
Government of Ghana has taken proactive steps in to address the sources of lead exposure, including putting in place legislation that could be used as a model for other countries.
Pure Earth in Ghana has set up an e-waste recycling facility at Abgogbloshie with Green Advocacy Ghana and Greater Accra Scrap Dealers Association. It has also supplied artisans with cable stripping equipment to reduce open air smelting.
Artisans and scarp dealers have also been trained on the safe and sustainable methods to dismantle e-waste.
UNICEF has also supported a clinic in Abgogbloshie with medical equipment to support child and maternal health and emergency health services.
UNICEF, Pure Earth and partners are also supporting the Government of Ghana with the needed research, data and tools required to reduce lead poisoning.
UNICEF continues to support partners in efforts to reduce children's exposure to lead by:
- Bolstering awareness raising efforts at the community level on the impacts of lead poisoning and environmental pollution.
- Implementing a lead exposure prevention programme which will benefit children in Agbogbloshie and other sites which have been identified in the country.
- Building the capacity of health staff in clinics and health centers to detect and treat lead poisoning to ensure the wellbeing of children and women, especially those who live in these areas.