Dar Es Salaam — FEW weeks ago in the city of Dar es Salaam, a man approached scrap metal buyers with what he thought was another version of ordinary scraps.
The would-be buyers observed the pawpaw-shaped tool and realized it was not an ordinary stuff, it was a bomb!
The scrap metals dealers would have alerted the police, but for fear of potential problems with the coercive forces, they decided to send away the seller with his material. The man having realized that he won't get any buyer for his 'scrap', he decided to abandon it by the roadside.
It didn't take long before the residents of Msasani Bonde la Mpunga were sent into panic briefly after an active bomb was found in their area.
Anti-mining experts from the Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF) were rushed in to investigate the incident. It was them who confirmed that the 122 millimetre-long metal was a bomb capable of causing extensive damage if explodes.
Surveys show that recycled (scrap metal) trade in the country has grown tremendously in the last five to six years.
The steel rolling mills sub-sector is still wholly dependent on scrap metal as its main source of raw materials. But according to experts this is not likely to sustain the industry in the long run.
Most of the scrap metal is obtained from abandoned machinery, vehicles, demolished buildings, shipyards, soda cans and dumpsites. Unfortunately, the search for scrap metals has at times led to vandalism of vital infrastructure like power lines, water pipes and railway rolling stock.
Should people be worried in anyway by this business? "Yes they should", Mr Leonard Kifanga, Senior Nuclear Research Officer for Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission, answers.
He says almost all persons and scrap metal dealers involved in this trade do not have the slightest idea of the hazards associated with radioactive materials which may inadvertently be smelt together with other metals, let alone other things like that bomb in Dar es Salaam recently.
This is true as one metal dealer John Beni in Ubungo testifies. When I ask him whether he knows the dangers involved in his business, he had no idea. Except that he says he can't buy water pipes and railway lines because he knows it's illegal.
"We buy iron metals, aluminium, copper, radiators and batteries to mention but a few and there are others things that we can't buy.
We know that if someone brings an electric line wire or a railway line, it must have been stolen. As much as we want to do business, we simply can't", he insists.
Mr Ben buys up to 100 kilograms of metals depending on the day's collection and the cost from 250/- a kilo for iron metals to 4700/- a kilo for copper materials.
Since he works for his boss, he says he doesn't know how much the big man gets from sales to iron -related materials companies in the city.
All he knows is that, in one way or another, they help keeping the city clean but the issue that they might collect hazardous materials, he is not aware.
Mr Kifanga says that all the recycling (scrap) metal facilities in the country do not have the capability to detect contaminated scrap metals/products nor the ability to monitor radioactivity in their storage facilities where scrap metal is collected and stored.
"In the absence of the public awareness of the dangers that can be posed by contaminated metal and in particular considering the inability by scrap metal dealers to detect and monitor contaminated scrap metal, we are in a situation that warrants to be concerned and worried should one day come across recycled contaminated metal or the recycled metal products", he informs.
According to him, the dangers are that persons dealing with scarp metal trade, for example the sellers and dealers, may become exposed to radiation should they come across contaminated scrap metals.
The most common hazards of radiation exposure include among others; skin damage, malfunction of body organs, various types of cancer, or even worse, other genetically induced effects that may result into deformations of newly born children.
In the last three years for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has witnessed around 500 events involving uncontrolled ionizing radiation sources, about 150 of which were related to radiation sources found in scrap metal or contaminated goods and materials.
Generally the presence of inadvertent radioactive materials in scrap metal is a recurring worldwide problem for the metal recycling industry including Universal Recycling Technologies (URT).
The materials can pose potentially severe health, environment and financial consequences for the industry and the public alike.
According to studies, the most common sources of contamination to scrap metals results from radiation sources that are not under regulatory control (radiation sources imported to URT long ago and have been abandoned by companies after closing business),
decommissioned facilities in hospitals, processing/manufacturing industries, road construction industries, education and research institutions, illicit trafficking of radioactive materials or even importation of contaminated steel from abroad or nearby countries.
"Between 2000 and 2009 a total number of 14 incidents involving illicit trafficking of radioactive materials were recorded in the country", says Mr Kifanga, adding that a total number of 12 radiation sources were intercepted by police and seized from persons who wanted to sell the radioactive materials for economic gain.
"It is strange that to-date the country of origin of those materials that could have entered the scrap metal industry remains unknown", he points out.
How could those engaged in this business conduct it in a safe manner' at the same time making sure that the general public isn't affected?
"Those in scrap metal business should be made aware of the hazards associated with ionizing radiation and in particular the principles of radiation protection", Mr Kifanga ascertains.
According to him, the scrap metal facilities should develop capabilities to detect radioactive materials also provide an ongoing training on radiation protection principles to their workers. They must also monitor radiation in their storage facilities.
"Better guidance on how to achieve safety, awareness and training of workers can be worked out together with the atomic energy commission in close cooperation with the scarp metal industries.
The TAEC can also provide the industries with the capability of detection and monitoring of radiation on incoming raw materials to the industries", says an environmental stakeholder who never cared to give his name.
Sources has it that the atomic energy body (TAEC) has embarked on a programme called 'search and secure of orphan sources'.
This programme involves carrying a survey and measurements in all places and installations which the body thinks were using radioactive materials and had not been registered or licensed.
Such potential areas are road construction facilities, abandoned/closed manufacturing/processing industries, closed mines among others.