Blacksmith was called to Senegal after the March 2008 deaths of 18 children under the age of five in the Dakar neighborhood of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer. The children died from acute lead poisoning from exposure to deadly lead dust due to the informal recycling of used car batteries.
Until recently, the main economic activity in Thiaroye-Sur-Mer involved the haphazard melting of car batteries to reclaim the scrap lead inside. Because this activity was conducted in the informal sector, out in the open air, and largely by the women of the community, the children of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer were particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.
After the deaths in Senegal, the government worked quickly to shut down these battery-smelting operations. However, the legacy of many years of unregulated lead processing has rendered the entire community of 40,000 people exceedingly polluted.
In April 2008, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the University of Dakar Toxicology Division conducted blood tests among 41 children of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer. All children tested had blood levels that exceeded WHO limits of 10 æg/dl, with the highest average being 158 æg/dl for the one-to-five year age group. According to most international standards, lead levels above 70 æg/dL in children are considered medical emergencies. A visit to the site by Blacksmith Institute staff at the same time revealed large amounts of lead dust present in homes, stores and streets throughout the community.
In Senegal, the Blacksmith project covers local health education and soil remediation in Thiaroye-Sur-Mer, in addition to the development of national policies to regulate battery-recycling activities.
1) The first priority of the four-pronged project is to protect the health of the children of Thiaroye-Sur-Mer through immediate treatment and education to mitigate health risks.
2) At the same time, Blacksmith is removing polluted soil to prevent further contamination to the community.
3) Blacksmith is also working to develop and implement a new policy to provide for environmentally sound management of battery recycling to prevent future informal economies from surfacing.
4) Finally, the Blacksmith project is helping local residents identify alternative forms of economic activity to replace the lost income from battery recycling.
Work has been ongoing on all fronts.
Due to a lack of total funding for the project in 2008/2009, the project was split into two phases, so that Blacksmith could deal with the worst of the contamination as quickly as possible, due to the extreme health threat to children of the communities. Phase 1 was focused on decreasing lead dust exposures as quickly and completely as possible. In Phase 1, the following objectives were accomplished:
· 1100 cubic meters of Principal Threat Materials (PTM) were removed from homes and community areas, by local contractors, overseen by Blacksmith Institute Technical Advisory Board members.
· 42 homes were decontaminated using local crews of women hired and trained by Blacksmith Institute Technical Advisory Board members, and overseen by Ministry of Environment officials.
· Health monitoring and educational programs for safe management of ULAB, and mitigation of lead dust exposure were conducted by the Ministry of Health and the Poison Control Center.
· Policy to establish the environmentally sound management of ULABs in Senegal is currently being workshopped by the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Trade.
Download the Phase 1 Update report here
Blacksmith's Lead Poisoning and Car Batteries Project serves as a model for hundreds of communities worldwide. In addition to Senegal, Blacksmith has projects in the Dominican Republic, Philippines, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, India and Jamaica.
The project brings together an international consortium of governmental and non-governmental agencies, each contributing its expertise. Blacksmith Institute's Dakar-based staff is overseeing the coordination and implementation of the project. Partners include several Senegalese government agencies, the University of Dakar and the World Health Organization.
To address health concerns, Senegal's Ministry of Health in conjunction with the University of Dakar's Toxicology Department has been working to oversee and implement an educational awareness campaign working with the local village authorities and religious leaders. The World Health Organization (WHO) has committed to treating all children with significantly high levels of lead in their blood.
To address the immediate environmental problem, Senegal's Ministry of Environment is overseeing and implementing the remediation of soils and the decontamination of the Thiaroye-Sur-Mer site. In addition, the Ministry of Environment is working with the Geneva-based Secretariat of the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal to create and implement policy changes to regulate car battery processing from collection, transportation, storage and recycling. Senegal's Department of Women's Affairs is helping the community to develop appropriate alternative sources of income to battery melting.
Battery Recycling Collection Centers
In Senegal, Blacksmith is also planning to establish satellite collection centers to recover car batteries and send them to proper recycling facilities. Blacksmith partners for this project include the Common Fund for Commodities, the International Lead Management Center, the International Lead and Zinc Study Group and the Basel Secretariat.