E-Waste: The Dirty Secret of Recycling Electronics
As the e-waste industry proliferates, it has also become enmeshed in questionable practices that undercut its environmentally friendly image. A recent probe by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found 43 U.S. companies that sought to sell e-waste for export to Asia, in apparent violation of the law. In China and elsewhere, electronic gear commonly is stripped for reusable microchips, copper, and silver; dangerous metals are dumped nearby, often close to farms or sources of drinking water.
The EPA adopted civil rules that went into effect in January 2007 forbidding U.S. companies from exporting monitors and televisions with cathode-ray tubes unless they have approval from the EPA and the receiving country. CRTs electronically project images on screens that are typically made of leaded glass. The gear contains mercury, cadmium, and other toxins that when released carelessly can cause neurological damage in children, among other harmful effects. The blood of children in rural Guiyu, China, a notorious e-waste scavenging site, contained lead at twice the acceptable level set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, according to a 2007 study conducted by Shantou University.