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Children at risk in e-waste sites

Source : The Asian Age, New Delhi, 24 Aug 2014

While it is a known truth that Delhi has been become a dumping yard for e-waste for the world, some disturbing facts from these sites expose the lack of awareness on the part of the owners and the local authorities on the working conditions in scrapyards.

In Seelampur area of the national capital, children can be easily spotted sitting atop the pile of keyboards, DVD players and other goods which compromise the e-waste. The area in the eastern part of Delhi exposes these children to very toxic substances, like lead, cadmium and mercury.

For the owners of the scrapyards, these children are cheap labour who work for anything between Rs 50 and Rs 200 a day.

More than six thousand children between the ages of 10 and 15 work in these dumping grounds.

A recent report by the NGO Toxic Link revealed the appalling conditions in which these workers operate. The report, titled “On the Edge”, claims that scrapyards have no ventilation and safety measures to protect the children and adults who work there.

The NGO surveyed various areas which have both legal and illegal e-waste dumping grounds.

Prem Nagar in Mandoli houses 110 lead acid battery recycling units. There is no understanding of pollution control, claims the report. “Most units in this area rely on coal to fuel crude furnaces and recover lead in a crude manner. While recycling, battery acid is dumped on the ground, on a waste pile or into a water body. As lead plates are melted, lead ash settles in the surroundings, collects on clothing or is inhaled by workers,” it says.

While the corporation governing the area was to crack down on the illegal units operating in these areas, not much has been done so far.

The East Delhi Municipal Corporation, however, claims that their efforts to shut down these units do not seem to work as the increasing amount of e-waste being dumped from across the world has increased. “Even if we shut down these units, more units sprout up due to increase in the tonnage of waste coming in,” said an official .

The children and adults working in these sites are not completely aware of the norms and safety measures and most of them segregate the e-waste with bare hands and without any safety gear.

For the children it is an easy way to earn money; they don’t know that their ignorance will cost them heavily.

A recent study by Assocham “E-waste in India by 2015” revealed that currently the e-waste of Delhi is approximately 30,000 metric tones per annum and over 1.5 lakh workers are employed in the city’s various organised and unorganised recycling units.

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