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Nigerian Official says E-Waste Dumping is Crime Against Humanity

The Nigerian government says it is deeply concerned about the dumping of potentially toxic electronic waste and has promised to clamp down on illegal imports of e-waste.

Speakers at an international conference on the hazards of electronic waste in Abuja say Nigeria has become a giant dumping ground where hundreds of millions of tons of electronic waste ends up each year.

Nigerian Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa says the growing trade in hazardous waste to Africa is a result of electronic companies' failing to take responsibility for recycling their products and constitutes a crime against humanity.

"The effects of technology on countries that do not have the capacity to manage the harmful effects of technology must be controlled. And, the control must come from firms and organizations that manufacture this technology," he said. "We have health challenges. We also have challenges in the provision of health care to our people. And, if we have the kind of injurious substances coming here, government will face unprecedented challenge. I consider this not just an environmental hazard, but also a crime against humanity."

The Nigerian government says it has ordered its customs services, security and environmental agencies to clamp down on illegal imports of obsolete electronic products.

According to a 2007 report by the Basel Action Network, about 500 containers with 400,000 second-hand computers are delivered each month in Lagos - Nigeria's most populous city, with 15 million people.

Waste from products such as televisions, computers, computer monitors, cell phones, keyboards and radios are known as electronic waste, or e-waste. It is a vast and growing market, estimated at 50 million tons a year. Much of it is dumped in Nigeria and other developing countries.

Used computers are very popular in Nigeria because they are much cheaper. The chairman of the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Environment, Dino Meneye, says electronic companies are exploiting the weakness of the Nigerian system.

"The influx of electronic waste in Nigeria is a function of many factors. These include unbridled tendencies of the developed nations to dump toxic waste and pollutants in developing nations, the porous nature of the nation's borders, high level of poverty and, most especially, the dubious disposition of some importers and traders to import and sell toxic wastes to unsuspecting consumers," said Meneye.

Analysts say e-waste dumping is a major health and environmental hazard because of the substances contained in most electronic products, such as lead, cadmium and mercury. If improperly disposed of, these toxic materials inside e-waste leak out and poison soil and groundwater.