Lead for car batteries poisons an African town
Battery recycling leaves deadly levels of contamination, claims 18 children
THIAROYE SUR MER, Senegal - First, it took the animals. Goats fell silent and refused to stand up. Chickens died in handfuls, then en masse. Street dogs disappeared.
Then it took the children. Toddlers stopped talking and their legs gave out. Women birthed stillborns. Infants withered and died. Some said the houses were cursed. Others said the families were cursed.
The mysterious illness killed 18 children in this town on the fringes of Dakar, Senegal's capital, before anyone in the outside world noticed. When they did — when the TV news aired parents' angry pleas for an investigation, when the doctors ordered more tests, when the West sent health experts — they did not find malaria, or polio or AIDS, or any of the diseases that kill the poor of Africa.
They found lead.
The dirt here is laced with lead left over from years of extracting it from old car batteries. So when the price of lead quadrupled over five years, residents started digging up the earth to get at it. The World Health Organization says the area is still severely contaminated, 10 months after a government cleanup.
The tragedy of Thiaroye Sur Mer gives a glimpse at how the globalization of a modern tool — the car battery — can wreak havoc in the developing world.