We found a large exposure to toxic chemicals contained in the batteries in the village of Sagbadaï, which represents a real health and environmental disaster. With our limited means, we explained to the villagers of the danger they face, we proposed and implemented solutions, and now we will assist in the development of appropriate sustainable responses.
During our first visit to the primary school, we found the presence in the middle of the school a pile of shattered batteries. The teachers told us a that these batteries were used by students to blacken school boards, with the black chemical products that they extract.
This chemical product contained within the battery is known to be highly toxic; containing notably heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, lead, nickel), that the human body cannot eliminate. Heavy metals cause serious long-term diseases: kidney disease, blindness, significant dysfunction, birth defects, neurological, reproductive disorders, allergies, cancers, and many others.
At school, there are 18 blackboards, to be blackened twice a year in this way. At a rate of more than one hundred batteries per blackboard, this represents thousands of broken batteries per year! This phenomenon is common in all schools (kindergarten to high school) of Togo, and probably even in all of Africa.
This problem is really just the tip of the iceberg. This toxic product is also used to blacken the agricultural seeds to prevent the birds eating them. Especially in the absence of electrification of the village, the inhabitants use a lot of batteries, and these are usually thrown to the ground after use, in the absence of appropriate bins. One battery contaminates 50 cubic meters of soil and 1,000 cubic meters of water for 50 years.
Thus we cannot sit idly by this health and environmental disaster. During our stay, we performed the following actions:
- Call for urgent donations from our friends in order to have an immediate action.
- Cleaning of school boards and achieving sustainable new slate tables.
- Interventions to students of primary and middle school in order to explain the danger to which they are exposed, and to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem.
- Establishment of a public awareness program through the creation of a committee of village volunteers and supported by educational posters.
- Establishment of a rudimentary system for collecting used batteries, which will rapidly evolve hopefully. A hard storage center will soon be built in the village.
So we have tried to start changing attitudes, raising awareness to the public of the risks it poses short term and to future generations. Initial feedback is very positive.
The result of the project will be to make systematic collection of used batteries, to make it easily accessible to the rural population and to extend it to a larger scale, seeking the support of local government that we hope are convinced of the importance of this action.