E-waste hazards in China

world | Jul 27, 2007 | By Rachel Kesselman

Due to projected increases in electronic waste (e-waste) and lax enforcement of regulations, it is likely that hazardous shipments of e-waste to China and India will increase over the next three years, while Nigeria will increasingly become a dumping ground for the hazardous material.

Currently, companies export 80 percent of the world's electronic trash to Asia, and 90 percent of this flows into China, according to a BBC report. Environmentalists in China have begun to express concern about the large quantities of e-waste that wealthy countries continue to dump in the developing world.

E-waste is consumer and business electronic equipment that is near or at the end of its useful life. Certain components of electronic products contain materials that render them hazardous, and include heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic. Many of these elements are extremely valuable, such as gold and platinum, while the majority of them are non-renewable.

Consumers discard an estimated 14 to 20 million personal computers every year just in the US, while activist groups expect developing nations to triple their output of all electronic waste by 2010.

Klaus Hieronymi, business environment manager for Hewlett Packard, says that people lack the necessary skills and adequate equipment to carry out e-waste recycling, thus endangering their well-being and exposing the local environment to harmful substances.

Some of the health effects observed from toxic e-waste chemicals include damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood system and kidneys as well as serious negative effects on the endocrine system and children's brain development.

A safety issue for Asia and Africa

E-waste is likely becoming an environmental and health problem in both Asia and Africa.

Greenpeace International released a report in August 2005 of its scientific investigations into the hazardous chemicals found in scrap yards where China and India recycle their electronic waste. Greenpeace found toxic chemicals that include tin, lead, copper, cadmium and antimony in the soil and local rivers around scrap yards where both countries recycle electronic waste. The organization confirmed that all stages in e-waste processing could release substantial quantities of toxic heavy metals and organic compounds into the workplace environment.

Activists have raised the same environmental and health concerns in Africa.

Professor OladDele Osibjano of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria says that he has found excess heavy metals in soil, plants and people who eat vegetables. He claims that this problem has social health implications due to grazing animals, people picking vegetables and eating them, and drinking water containing toxins.

The Basel Convention

The Basel Convention is the largest and most robust piece of global environmental legislation on hazardous and other wastes. The UN Environment Program negotiated the Convention in the late 1980s and adopted it in 1989. The Convention came into force in 1992 and now has 170 parties. The legislation aims "to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, tran

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