Obsolete computers pose health hazard
by Fazle Rashid, The Financial Express
28 October 2005 – SIXTY-three million computers in the USA will become obsolete by the end of this year posing a serious health hazard according to National Safety Council. A computer monitor contains as much as eight pounds of lead and plastics filled with flame retardants and cadmium, all of which could be dangerous both for the environment and human beings, NSC concluded.
Proper recycling of discarded computers entails big expenses. These computers can neither be used nor repaired. So what do the computers companies do with those machines that can no longer be used? The slogan of 'Building bridges over the digital divide' is often used to lure people in the poor countries to accept the condemned computers either as donation/gift or buy them at throw-away price.
About fifty to 80 per cent of electronic waste collected for recycling in the USA go to China, India and Pakistan for recycling. A total of over 400,000 used computers reach, Lagos, Nigeria every-month. The bulk of the computers going to Lagos is not useable nor economically repairable or resaleable. These are dumped for filling low lands. Toxins in the computer can pollute groundwater and create health hazards. The recyclers in the USA have now agreed not to export electronic waste.
Basel Action Network, the watchdog group, monitoring the export of electronic waste, is determined to stop export of electronic waste from America to the poor countries. The Basel Convention is a United Nations treaty which severely limits trading of hazardous materials. The USA is not a signatory to the treaty.
Most of the condemned computers shipped to poor countries are collected by recyclers from business houses, government offices and other agencies. These are then shipped to poor countries for repair, sale or dismantling them, using cheap workforce. Graham Wollaston, president of one of the biggest computer recyclers said virtually all components of old electronic devices including old TVs are being put to use. He named Malaysia as one of the countries putting old electronic devices to good use. Wollaston said the system was working well but admitted that some recyclers dump useless equipment in the developing countries. Environmental Protection Agency says it was seized with the problem but it was not so dangerous as to prompt banning export of electronic waste.
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