[By Louis, the medical student on the AMP team]
Any time there is a threat of biological or chemical attack, the first you think about is personal safety. Aside finding environmentally-friendly and efficient solutions to managing mountain-high piles of used plastic products, the AMP also discovered how extremely poisonous it is to work in spaces like Agbogbloshie with plastics constantly set ablaze. It can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver. The most dangerous emissions can be caused by burning plastic substances like PVC. When such plastics are burned, a group of highly toxic chemicals called dioxins are emitted. This is a very typical practice in Agbogbloshie for copper wire recovery.
Dioxins settle on crops and in our waterways where they eventually end up in our food and accumulate in our bodies. They accumulate in our body fat and thus mothers give it directly to their babies via the placenta.
Therefore, one of the AMP team’s research trajectories is in safety gear for the industrial environment of Agbogbloshie.
Gas masks–more generically known as respirators–protect workers against everything from dust to toxic gases in general. It is a tight-fitting plastic or rubber face mask with some sort of filter cartridge. In one main type, the supplied air provides pre-filtered air from a canister through a tube whiles in the other, the air breathed in and out of the mouth directly. Based on particle filtration, chemical absorption or adsorption and chemical reaction to neutralize a chemical, respirators are built to effectively filter a wide range of contaminants from burning emissions. Some filters are disposable whiles others can be replaced.
Additionally, we looked at the hazmat suit which is an overall garment (including boots, gloves, a hood) worn to protect people from hazardous materials or substances, including chemicals, biological agents, or radioactive materials. It is worn in a dozen or more layers; the first layer jumpsuit being re-usable. Some hazmat suits are loose to prevent spillage only, whiles others are air-tight to prevent gaseous contact.
Unfortunately, local dealers may not be able afford such equipment costing some hundreds of dollars. More importantly, many of them remain unaware of the dire effects of their daily activities. Not only these people who are burning plastics are exposed to these pollutants, but also their neighbours, children and families.
Hopefully, the creative geniuses at AMP can create some local and sustainable gas masks based on American and European standards. With our own teams and the workers at Agbogbloshie in mind, we hope to reduce the risks of individuals being exposed to unfiltered fumes. Our thinking caps are on tight!
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