US toxic techno-trash flooding Asia

Posted: 1 March 2002

A groundbreaking investigation by an international coalition of environmental organisations has revealed that huge quantities of hazardous electronic wastes (E-wastes) are being exported to China, Pakistan and India where they are processed in operations that are extremely harmful to human health and the environment.

The organisations - Basel Action Network (BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) with support from Toxics Link India, Greenpeace China and SCOPE (Pakistan)- have released a full report on the investigation entitled, Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia.

The investigation uncovered an entire area known as Guiyu in Guangdong Province, surrounding the Lianjiang River just 4 hours drive northeast of Hong Kong where about 100,000 poor migrant workers are employed breaking apart and processing obsolete computers imported primarily from North America. The workers were found to be using 19th century technologies to clean-up the wastes from the 21st century.

Woman about to smash a cathode ray tube from a computer monitor in order to remove the copper laden yoke at the end of the funnel. The glass is laden with lead but the biggest hazard from this is the inhalation of the highly toxic phosphor dust coating inside. The monitor glass is later dumped in irrigation canals and along the river where it leaches lead into the groundwater. The groundwater in Guiyu is completely contaminated to the point where fresh water is trucked in constantly for drinking purposes. Guiyu, China. © Basel Action Network.The operations involve men, women and children toiling under primitive conditions, often unaware of the health and environmental hazards involved in operations which include open burning of plastics and wires, riverbank acid works to extract gold, melting and burning of toxic soldered circuit boards and the cracking and dumping of toxic lead laden cathode ray tubes.

The investigative team witnessed many tons of the E-waste simply being dumped along rivers, in open fields and irrigation canals in the rice growing area. Already the pollution in Guiyu has become so devastating that well water is no longer drinkable and thus water has to be trucked in from 30 kilometres away for the entire population.

"We found a cyber-age nightmare," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of BAN. "They call this recycling, but it's really dumping by another name. Yet to our horror, we further discovered that rather than banning it, the United States government is actually encouraging this ugly trade in order to avoid finding real solutions to the massive tide of obsolete computer waste generated in the US daily.

BAN referred to the fact that the United States is the only developed country in the world that has failed to ratify the Basel Convention, a United Nations environmental treaty which has adopted a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the worlds most developed countries to developing countries. Further, the US has actually exempted toxic E-waste from its own laws governing exports, simply because the material was claimed to be destined for recycling.

BAN and SVTC are calling on the United States to follow Europe's example and immediately implement the global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the United States to developing countries and likewise to solve the E-waste problem "upstream" by mandating that the electronics industry institute "take-back" recycling programs, toxic input phase-outs and green design for long-life, upgradeability and ease of recycling.

"Consumers in the US have been the principal beneficiaries of the high-tech revolution and we simply can't allow the resulting high environmental price to be pushed off onto others," said Ted Smith, Executive Director of SVTC. "Rather than sweeping our E-waste crisis out the backdoor by exporting it to the poor of the world, we have got to address it square in the face and solve it at home, in this country, at its manufacturing source."

For a copy of the full report visit the websites below:

Basel Action Network (BAN)

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC)

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