Waste management is becoming one of the critical issues in Ghana in recent years. Despite the environmental and sanitation policies, waste is currently a public menace in all cities and in Ghana. Following recent incidents in Ghana, such as the cholera outbreak which claimed over 100 lives and the June 6th disaster which claimed about 150 lives – one of the most highly recognized environmental disasters in Ghana, waste management can clearly be noticed as a public hazard which needs immediate attention.
Waste residues gets into contact with human through dermal, inhalation and ingestion. In Ghana, all these points of contact pose a threat to the health of citizens. Inappropriate and indiscriminate waste discharge and disposal in Ghana increases the vulnerability of exposure of people to contaminants. Among the three known ways of human contact with pollutants, the least recognized and prioritized in Ghana is inhalation.
There has been a great effort by Ghana Standard Boards, Environmental Protection Agency and other creditworthy departments to set limits of emissions for some industrial and commercial activities. Regardless of this effort, some industries emissions are unregulated – making it difficult to monitor. Soap making, wood processing and chemical storage facilities usually add to air pollution in communities. Faulty cars freely ride on our roads releasing abnormal exhaust fumes. Wood dust, ash and dust from road construction in air is common in Ghana. These pollutants pose a health risk, potentially induce the formation of acid rain and impart on climate change.
Domestic waste in Ghana are usually dumped off at a designated site provided by environmental health officers in the district or community – mostly dumping refuse attracts a fee. With the recent increase in the usage of plastics, people produce more waste than usual and try to escape the fee of dumping their rubbish. With even the few who continuously abide by law and dump at the right place, these designated sites usually overfill before their assigned time of processing or transfer to a landfill site due to increase in waste. When this happens, community folks have it as a habit of handling waste inappropriately – dumping in bushes, drainage systems and water bodies or commonly burning it openly in public which generates an unpleasant smelling air in the environment. With low literacy, most community dwellers are ignorant about the health implications of inhaling such polluted air.
It is known by few that open burning of refuse is unlawful, it still remain as one of the most contributing causes of air pollution in Ghana. Care takers at designated dumping site usually set fire to the “mountain” of waste to reduce its volume and enhance collection of waste of the subsequent days. However this pose a serious threat to human health, particularly, areas closer to these dumping sites. The refuse do not burn rapidly due to its moist and higher percentage of organic by-products. A continuous bad-smelling thick concentrated smoke then becomes the output of such exercise – flowing together with the direction wind towards inhabited areas. As a result, the air in nearby communities become polluted and hazardous for inhalation. Despite the bad smell of the site and the smog, inhabitants rarely complain and usually inhale comfortably.
In farming communities, agricultural waste such as rice husks are being burnt not disposed. Such products contain high carbon contents and thus, burning it releases carbon into the atmosphere which displaces oxygen content in the atmosphere. High rate of carbon inhalation also reduces the amount of haemoglobin available for carrying oxygen to the body tissue of humans which causes oxygen deficiency in body tissues. Aside the health implications, these pollutants arising from refuse burning, emissions from factories, wood dust and other diffuse sources greatly contribute to the formation of secondary pollutants in the atmosphere and depletion of the ozone layer.
There are no strong advocates and campaign against open incineration of waste and health implications of unregulated emissions eject into the atmosphere in Ghana. Though responsible agencies occasionally prosecute culprits under few circumstances, there is an urgent need for advocacy against such domestic and industrialized practices which pollutes the air we breathe and as well aid in the reduction of ozone depletion.