The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the U.S. regulators aren't doing enough to stop used computers, monitors and other electronic products that have toxic materials which could cause safety hazards for foreign workers. To make matters worse, the U.S. and other nations are sending the electronic devices to other nations with little enforcement or regulation.
E-waste exposure can cause health issues to workers because of lead exposure and other dangers. Mercury and cadmium exposure are two other serious safety hazards facing the workers in China, India, Vietnam and other nations that dispose of the electronics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn't doing enough to help reduce the high number of discarded electronics that are exported and disposed of improperly in other nations.
"Concerns have mounted that not all recycling is conducted responsibly, particularly in developing countries, and that some U.S. recyclers and exporters may be at fault," the GAO said in a report for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The 63-page GAO report was requested by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D, Calif.), who has held several different hearings on the topic already, with more in the works.
During the investigation, 43 companies agreed to export broken CRT monitors overseas, in violation of a 60-day grace period issued by the EPA, when GAO investigators posed as willing buyers. The investigators contacted a total of 343 companies via e-mail during the investigation. Since 2007, police authorities in Hong Kong have intercepted and detained at least 26 containers of broken CRTs.
As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to remind people in the United States of the analog to digital television transition next year, there could be 20 million analog TVs sent overseas for disassembly. The EPA, which has been mildly insulted because of the report, plans to continue to make sure all electronics with cathode-ray tubes are disposed of properly, for the safety of the workers and the surrounding community.
The toxic materials located in discarded monitors or TVs often times are not serious concerns until the product is disassembled, where the toxins find their way into the air or into a local water stream.