The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), in collaboration with the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the police, has rounded up about 10 people at Otatten in Odorkor, a suburb of Accra, for producing insecticides and pesticides illegally.
The Director-General of the GSA, Professor Alex Dodoo, who led the raid on the syndicate January 19 afternoon, said the presence of the makeshift factories posed “danger to about 1.4 million people living within a 2.1-kilometre radius in and around Odorkor”.
He said thousands of residents of the place and its environs were at risk of developing central nervous system disorders and related diseases due to the presence and the activities of the syndicate of illegal chemical producers.
The syndicate, which operates from homes and makeshift factories within Odorkor, produces pesticides and insecticides from toxic chemicals without any safety precautions or official approval from the FDA and the GSA.
However, some of their products bear the GSA conformity mark without authorisation.
Beyond operating without the right certification, including business registration and certificates and operating permits, the operations are also situated in the heart of densely populated residential areas, in violation of the Environmental Assessment (EA) Regulations (LI 1652).
In the swift operation that lasted about three hours, the team retrieved many products that were being manufactured at the time of the raid and placed the makeshift facilities under lock and key, with a GSA security seal.
Samples of the products were also confiscated for laboratory tests.
It was the second time in two days that the swoop had been conducted. During the first swoop last Friday, no arrest was effected.
According to Prof. Dodoo, while it was certain that the activities of the syndicate posed a health risk to residents of the area, the safety of the finished products was also in doubt, hence the need for further laboratory tests.
Asked what would be done to rid the area completely of such activities, he said the arrested suspects would be prosecuted to send a strong signal to the public that the GSA and other regulatory agencies were prepared to enforce the laws to ensure the safety of the public.
However, he said, due to the crisis nature of the situation, it was prudent for heads of the regulatory agencies to move beyond prosecution and take a major decision that would help completely shut down such illegal activities.
“What we are witnessing now is an imminent health threat that must be contained immediately to forestall any escalation. There is also the need to demolish the area and decontaminate some of the facilities and houses around to assess the level of exposure to the houses and children around and see if corrective things can be done because the exposure has been there for a long time,” he said.
A resident of the area, who spoke to the Daily Graphic on condition of anonymity, said the activities of the illegal chemical producers were a nuisance to the community, as the stench from the chemicals polluted the air.
He explained that the illegal production of insecticides and pesticides in the Otatten community dated back to the early 1990s when some settlers began the production.
Over the years, he said, it had become a well-organised syndicate of producers, distributors and marketers under an association called the ‘Boa wo man’ Insecticide Producers Association.
The source said although law enforcement agencies had, on several occasions in the past, attempted to stop the illegal manufacturers, none had been successful and that had fueled the illegality.
After the swoop, the Daily Graphic team took a walk through the Otatten community, an exercise which revealed a chilling sight of emboldened young men and women desperately producing the chemicals without any protective clothes in a toxic environment.
Aside from the branded distribution vans that were parked along the streets in the area, many of the shops along the streets were open for the sale of only the illegal substances.
The strong unpleasant scent of the chemicals used to manufacture the illegal insecticides could be smelled from every corner of the area.
A man who presented himself as the Chairman of the ‘Boa wo man’ Insecticide Producers Association, Mr Frank Atia, told the Daily Graphic that he started trading in household chemicals in 1997 when he moved to the area.
At the time, he said, he was only a distributor for the manufacturer until he started his own makeshift factory in 2003.
He said the area was the main hub for the production and distribution of household chemicals in the country, as a result of which even producers outside the community set up shop in the area to help them have access to a larger market.
He called on the relevant authorities to help regularise their activities to help keep them in business, as they were prepared to comply with the law.
Asked why they had disregarded the safety of the public to operate illegally over the years, Mr Atia said they were of the view that their activities were legal.