2008-04-21 - Toxic e-waste pouring into Third World
Source: The Star.com (Craig Kielburger & Marc Kielburger)
Have you ever wondered what became of your VHS player? How about that old computer with the black and green monitor, or your first cellphone that was the size of a loaf of bread?
With people constantly upgrading their computers, TVs and cellphones, electronic waste, or e-waste, has quickly become the fastest growing component of solid waste. Compounding the problem, e-waste is often extremely toxic.
Despite international agreements that prohibit the import and export of hazardous waste, shipments of broken electronic devices continue to pour into the harbours of Kenya, India and China.
The reason is strictly financial. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates it's up to 10 times cheaper to export e-waste than to dispose of it domestically.
Mercury, barium, lead and cadmium are just a few of the dangerous elements that can be found in discarded devices. Many more toxic materials are used in the salvaging process that recovers the gold, silver, copper and other valuable metals found in computers, cellphones and TVs.
Acid baths and open fires are typical of the inefficient and dangerous methods used in the recovery of these precious metals. Toxic fumes and acid spillage contribute to an unsafe working environment. The hazardous elements accumulate in landfills and can leech into the groundwater, leaving it undrinkable.
The Basel Convention, which the United States has yet to sign, is an international treaty that addresses e-waste. While it has helped to slow the transfer of toxic waste between nations, it lacks accountability...