[A-List] US imperialism: Summers memo policies
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 6 05:35:33 MST 2002
Toxic US tech waste trashing Asia
By Danielle Knight
Asia Times, February 28, 2002
WASHINGTON - Huge quantities of scrap electronics are being exported
from the United States to China, Pakistan and India, where the waste is
causing environmental and health problems, according to an investigation
by five environmental organizations.
Up to 80 percent of all electronic waste collected for recycling in the
United States actually ends up on container ships bound for Asia. There,
the scrap - including millions of tons of computer monitors and circuit
boards - is processed in operations harmful to human health and the
environment, the groups say.
The watchdog organizations, in a joint report, say they witnessed open
burning of plastics and wires, riverbank acid works to extract gold from
electronics components, melting and burning of toxic soldered circuit
boards, and the cracking and dumping of toxic lead-laden cathode ray
tubes. Tons of electronic waste bearing labels and identification tags
from the United States are dumped along rivers, on open fields, and in
irrigation canals, say the groups.
"They call this recycling but it's really dumping by another name," says
Jim Puckett, coordinator of the US-based Basel Action Network, one of
the groups that authored the report. The organization is trying to
enforce the Basel Convention, a 1989 United Nations treaty to limit
hazardous waste exports. Other organizations involved in the
investigation include US-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Toxics
Link India, Greenpeace China, and Pakistan's Society for the
Conservation and Protection of the Environment.
Their 51-page report, "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia",
focuses mainly on Guiyu, in China's Guangdong province. Electronic
processing centers in the region employ 100,000 low-income migrant
workers to break apart obsolete computers primarily imported from North
America. The main casualty of the growth in electronics processing has
been drinking water. The groundwater in Guiyu has become so polluted
since 1995 that well water is no longer fit to drink and fresh water now
has to be trucked in from 30 kilometers away, according to the
investigators, who visited the region in December.
In one part of Guiyu, villagers burn electronic wires to recover copper.
The report says it is extremely likely that because of the presence of
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or flame retardants in wire insulation, the
emissions and ashes from such burning will contain high levels of
dioxins and furans, two toxic pollutants linked to cancer and other
health problems. In some parts of Guiyu, says the report, workers
dismantle printers and toner cartridges without any protective clothing
or respiratory equipment. "The process created constant clouds of toner
that billowed around the workers and was routinely inhaled," says the
report. The employed workers are mostly former farmers, including women
and children, who receive an average wage equivalent to US$1.50 per day.
Investigators found similar electronics-processing situations in Karachi
and New Delhi. No special equipment or protective clothing of any kind
is used, and all the work is done by bare hand, says the report.
Interviews with workers in Karachi show that the general public is
"completely unaware of the hazards of the materials that are being
processed and the toxins they contain", says the report.
Officials with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have
acknowledged that a large portion of the nation's electronics waste is
exported. But since there is no systematic reporting of exports of such
waste, there are no precise estimates of the amounts of scrap headed to
developing nations for reprocessing.
US industry and government officials have fought an initiative by the
European Union that aims to hold electronics corporations responsible
for the products they manufacture. Known as the European Commission
Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), the
legislation would require manufacturers to pay to take computers and
appliances back and safely recycle or reprocess them. Japan has taken
similar steps to require manufacturers to take back their products at
the end of their so-called life cycle.
Since WEEE surfaced several years ago, the American Electronic
Association, fearing for the corporate bottom line, teamed up with the
office of the US Trade Representative to launch a major offensive
against the proposal.
The environmentalists' report urges the United States to reverse its
position and follow Europe's example. "Rather than sweeping our e-waste
crisis out the back door 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," says Ted Smith, executive
director of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an advocacy group named
after the region in California famous for its computer and related
Smith estimates there will be 315 million obsolete computers in the US
by 2004. "Consumers in the United States 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 on to others," he
The report notes that the United States is the only industrialized
nation that has not ratified the Basel Convention.
Full article at:
Mercuria Business School
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
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