Roma communities in France, currently the subject of a controversial crackdown by the Sarkozy administration, are being forced to scavenge growing volumes of potentially dangerous e-waste in a bid to escape poverty, an Ecologist investigation has revealed.
Taking advantage of apparently ineffective waste recycling schemes, impoverished Roma people living in slums on the fringes of Paris - and elsewhere - are scouring the streets in search of discarded electrical and electronic goods in order to break the items down and extract key elements including aluminium, copper, iron and lead for sale to a network of scrap dealers.
Despite the implementation of the EU-wide Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), and the introduction of other measures designed to allow the legal disposal of unwanted electrical and electronic goods, recovery rates remain low and as much as half of France's so-called e-waste is ending up in the hands of 'parallel networks', according to Ecologic, an official e-waste recycling organisation.
The country is estimated to generate some 1.5 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste annually. Roma communities lack the necessary skills and equipment to safely break down sometimes toxic electrical and electronic goods, according to medical experts, with cables often burned in open fires to extract precious copper and old car batteries melted down for the lead.
Medical organisations, including Doctors of the World, are concerned Roma communities, particularly children, are at risk of serious health problems if the unofficial e-waste recycling continues. They cite previous studies into the issue that they claim show instances of lead poisoning in Roma children and the contamination of land used as a Roma camp.