Perils of e-Waste

17 02 2009

According to Environment Canada, 140,000 tonnes of e-waste are dumped annually in landfills which is a number that continues to increase. E-waste is nothing but the waste of used computers, mobile phones, video games and all other electronic items. As per the latest figures released by the Environmental Protection Agency, in California alone, 6,000 computers become obsolete each day. Out of the high volume of discarded and obsolete computers, only 10 per cent are actually recycled which means in a day, 5,400 computers in California alone add to the e-waste.

If treated properly; electronic waste is a valuable source for secondary raw materials. However, if not treated properly, it is a major source of toxins and carcinogens. Burning the waste at open places, disassembling, and disposal are causing environmental and health problems, including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, because of the methods of processing the waste.

Toxic substances in electronic waste include lead, mercury and cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in electronic waste include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6 per cent lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). Capacitors, transformers, PVC insulated wires, PVC coated components that were manufactured before 1977 often contain dangerous amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls. Up to thirty-eight separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items. Diagram showing the proportions of chemical contents included in the e-waste which are hazardous to human health

Apparent hazards of e-waste
Out of the many chemicals included in e-waste that harm humans, some hazards are:
1. Mercury: It causes brain damage
2. Beryllium: It is one of the reason for lung cancer
3. Chromium: It seriously damages human DNA
4. Lead: It takes a toll nervous system, blood systems, kidneys and reproductive systems
5. Barium: It is extremely toxic
6. Cobalt: Highly radioactive
7. Arsenic: It is a kind of poison

Quick Facts
1. Between 1997-2007, 500 million computers were obsolete globally.
2. The e-waste recycling and disposal operations found in India, China, Pakistan are extremely polluting and damaging to humans
3. Recycling involves open burning of plastics
4. It paves way for exposure to toxic solders
5. River dumping of acids is another threat to the lives of sea creatures which end up in human digestive system

Asian countries — a haven for e-waste export
“Cost of recycling a computer in the US is $30 whereas it is just $2 in China” Most of the developed countries, the United States and the UK have strict rules and regulations governing the disposal of e-waste and their recycling. As a result, such countries ship them to third world nations which are now becoming the e-waste dump yards. Nearly 50 to 80 per cent of e-waste recycling by the western world is by simply sending them to countries like Cambodia, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India and most of these countries lack strict laws regarding the treatment of e-waste. – Oman Daily Observer


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