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CBS recently exposed one American firm for illegally shipping toxic electronics waste overseas. This practice has taken a severe toll on the health of locals in communities which the trash is shipped to.  (Source: Greenpeace)
American firm found to be illegally transporting tech trash to China, transforming a town in southern China into a toxic wasteland

There's little doubt that China is heavily polluted.  This was showcased at the Beijing Olympics, which were held under constant fear of smog.  The country is also the world's largest CO2 emitter. 

China and the U.S. have long played the blame game over who is to blame for the other's pollution.  NASA studies have shown that as much as 15 percent of the U.S. air pollution is simply smog blown over from China.  The Chinese, however, say that it’s Western demand that is fueling the production and pollution.

However, the worst pollution problems for China may not be high up in the sky, but much closer to Earth, with the soaring problem of e-waste.  DailyTech was among the first in the tech community to chronicle the growing problem of tech trash

The U.S. and other industrialized nations are fueling this problem by shipping countless tons of electronics trash overseas to the lowest bidder.  This trade occurs despite laws trying to stop it and the efforts of many large American electronics firms to stop the practice.

CBS News' "60 Minutes" is the latest to take an in-depth look into the epidemic.  Its report focuses on China, perhaps the nation with the worst tech-trash importing problem.

In China, the deluge of tech trash has led to gang-controlled electronics wastelands characterized by massive landfills, toxic water supplies and low laying clouds of choking gases.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and contributor to the report, describes the situation stating, "Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides. All of these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers.  The problem with e-waste is that it is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide."

Many of the chemicals which help make electronics less likely to burn, malfunction, or otherwise go awry, according to the medical community, can cause serious side effects on the human body, if improperly disposed.  And with 130,000 computers thrown out every day in the U.S. and 100 million cell phones thrown away annually, it’s easy to see where China gets its tech-trash.

Many citizens in America are eager to help and endure long lines to submit their old electronics for recycling.  However, understanding of what happens to these components is hazy at best.  Says one man, waiting in line to recycle a computer, "Well my assumption is they break it apart and take all the heavy metals out and then try to recycle some of the stuff that's bad."

It turns out many recycling companies are shipping the trash overseas to make a quick profit, at the expense of polluting the environment, and exposing people in countries like China to deadly health problems.

The "60 Minutes" special looked at Executive Recycling, of Englewood, Colorado, which claimed to recycle all its tech trash in the U.S.  Its CEO Brandon Richter stated of shipping tech trash overseas, "Well, you know, they've got low-income labor over there. So obviously they don't have all of the right materials, the safety equipment to handle some of this material."

Well it turns out that Mr. Richter and the company -- despite its assertion that "Your e-waste is recycled properly, right here in the U.S. - not simply dumped on somebody else" -- were guilty of outright lies.  "60 Minutes" tracked shipping containers leaving the companies facilities, which it inspected and found to be full of cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors, which can have large amounts of lead and other chemicals.  The company was shipping the containers to Hong Kong, a common stopping point before smuggling the containers into China.

The show tracked the electronics to a town in southern China known as Guiyu, which CBS calls a "sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste".  The town was overrun with corrupt officials, who tried to fool the reporters with a faked shop and then forced them out of town with a police escort.  Risking life and limb and returning to the town, the reporters found people melting boiling lead off components, inhaling massive amounts of lead vapor.  Others were using a gold-extracting acid recipe not used in the western world since the Middle Ages, due to its toxic effects. 

Perhaps it is unsurprising, though very sad that Guiyu, which has the world's highest concentration of cancer-causing dioxins has six times the miscarriage rate as normal.  And seven out of ten children in the town have higher than acceptable lead blood levels, something that has been causing severe mental problems and loss of fertility.  Says a CBS reporter, "These people are not just working with these materials, they're living with them. They're all around their homes."

Mr. Hershkowitz explains, "The situation in Guiyu is actually pre-capitalist. It's mercantile. It reverts back to a time when people lived where they worked, lived at their shop. Open, uncontrolled burning of plastics. Chlorinated and brominated plastics is known worldwide to cause the emission of polychlorinated and polybrominated dioxins. These are among the most toxic compounds known on earth.  We have a situation where we have 21st century toxics being managed in a 17th century environment."

After getting jumped by thugs, hired by the local mayor, CBS narrowly escaped with evidence of the dire situation in hand.

Back in the states, the reporters confronted Executive Recycling, stating, "This is a photograph from your yard, the Executive Recycling yard.  We followed this container to Hong Kong."

Mr. Richter responded, "Ok."

CBS followed, "And I wonder why that would be?"

Mr. Richter responded, "Hmm. I have no clue."

Several emphatic denials later, Mr. Richter stated, "I know this is your job.  But, unfortunately, you know, when you attack small business owners like this and you don't have all your facts straight, it's unfortunate, you know?"

The facts remain indisputable, though -- CBS had solid video evidence that Executive Recycling was illegally smuggling tech trash overseas for a quick profit.  And in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, a sting set up with Chinese officials, confirmed this.  It also found 42 other major tech recycling firms from all across America, more than willing to do the same thing.



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Clearly?
By masher2 (blog) on 11/10/2008 11:45:38 AM , Rating: -1
> "Clearly tech trash is an epidemic of massive proportions"

In your own mind, perhaps. Suspiciously absent from this article is any hard data on how many people-- if any at all -- are being negatively affected by this trash. A curious omission, isn't it, for such a "massive epidemic". Certainly if people were being sickened in droves, 60 Minutes would have had no qualms about photographing or interviewing them.

It's also interesting to note that the "gang of thugs" in this article were actually no more than irate workers, upset over a bunch of foreign journalists threatening their livelihood. In the absence of this industry, most of these workers are going to be back in the rice fields, working 12-16 hours per day for pennies, risking starvation at the first bad crop.




RE: Clearly?
By MadMan007 on 11/10/2008 11:58:39 AM , Rating: 2
'Choice between poverty and poison is not a choice that should have to be made' as one person on the show put it. I don't recall that 60 minutes said the 'thugs' were 'hired by the mayor' however. There were interviews with some of the workers as a matter of fact. As for the number of people, would it be ok if it was a low number? Clearly the proportions of people affected in the area are large and this isn't the only area that it goes on I'm sure.

It helps to have watched the show in question or at least ask questions before jumping to conclusions.


RE: Clearly?
By masher2 (blog) on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By wvh on 11/10/2008 8:52:22 PM , Rating: 4
You assume the Chinese people have a completely free and informed choice. You know this not to be true.

Furthermore, China or elsewhere, changing towns and landscapes into toxic wastelands is simply not a practice that can be sustained. Pollution doesn't stop at borders, and no matter how much you minimise the number of miscarriages, cancers and other health risks, reality shows an immediate and shocking impact on human beings and their environment.

To knowingly inflict this borders on the line of criminality.


RE: Clearly?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By Oregonian2 on 11/11/2008 11:00:33 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
To knowingly inflict this borders on the line of criminality.


Even if the trash was "Made in China" to begin with and is just being returned to the country of origin?


RE: Clearly?
By sleepeeg3 on 11/10/2008 8:47:02 PM , Rating: 1
So?

I have seen this before... I spent about a day trying to find a free, comprehensive recycling resource for all major electronics. What I found - there is no such thing. Which leaves the pay recycling programs that are just shipping the parts off to China.

We live in ignorance that this is happening, yet the reality is we have no alternatives. There is no financial incentive to fix the problem so it will keep happening until China steps up and decides to starts taking care of its citizens and forcing the world to find a solution to the waste. Fat chance that will happen anytime soon.

So blame China!


RE: Clearly?
By sleepeeg3 on 11/10/2008 8:49:29 PM , Rating: 2
Oh and I see no solutions offered in this article.


RE: Clearly?
By kbehrens on 11/11/2008 10:19:35 PM , Rating: 2
The "solution" is for us all to stop using the evil products of technology. Then we can return to a simpler, more fulfilling life of weaving daisies and dancing naked in parks.


RE: Clearly?
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/10/2008 12:07:51 PM , Rating: 2
First let me remind you that the acts of this company, which you seem to be supporting, or at least condoning are ILLEGAL under U.S. laws. They are breaking the law.

In response to your comments:

quote:
Suspiciously absent from this article is any hard data on how many people-- if any at all -- are being negatively affected by this trash.


Incorrect.

quote:
Perhaps it is unsurprising, though very sad that Guiyu, which has the world's highest concentration of cancer-causing dioxins has six times the miscarriage rate as normal. And seven out of ten children in the town have higher than acceptable lead blood levels, something that has been causing severe mental problems and loss of fertility.


I think that sums it up pretty well.

Let's think about why there might not be more extensive data past this, rather abundant data on the health effects. First, the vast majority of these people have little if any health coverage by American standards. You can live with many ailments, resultant from toxin exposure, such as cancer or infertility for years, so a dramatically higher mortality rate is not necessarily expected.

Further, there's not monetary motivation outside of a pure research motivation to investigate the exact extent of the people's health problems. However there have been extensive studies on the effects of lead exposure, etc. on children and adults here in the U.S. and they have shown conclusively that exposures such as lead poisoning among children have a great deal of severe health effects.

If you don't believe this, ask any doctor, he or she could easily refer you to the medical literature on pediatric lead exposure.

Further, I find your "all or nothing" mentality with respect to this situation disturbing. If these recycling firms were willing to spend a small amount of their profits they could invest in more humane working conditions. Your argument that there is no way to harvest these components safely without depriving these people of their livelihood is a weak one. You could use the same illogical argument to justify sweatshops, etc.

In the end it comes down to greed, and a willingness among some companies in industrialized nations to exploit third world workers, despite the effects on them, when they could easily provide humane working conditions.


RE: Clearly?
By Iaiken on 11/10/08, Rating: 0
RE: Clearly?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/10/2008 8:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Is it thier fault that thier ignorance is being taken advantage of for a buck?


You know you are way off base here. You are acting like China was a lush paradise until the dirty American's came and leaded them up so to speak.

China has had a horrible environmental record for decades. Especially when it comes to lead. You simply cannot dump their problems on our laps because of this very recent " issue ".

And how are they being taken advantage of ? Legal issues aside, you frankly insult their intelligence by assuming they are too stupid to understand whats taking place here. Seeing as how its our own laws being broken, and they aren't the ones complaining, I think you owe them an apology.


RE: Clearly?
By masher2 (blog) on 11/10/2008 6:10:18 PM , Rating: 4
> "They are breaking the law."

Whatever happened to innnocent until proven guilty? According to 60 Minutes -- which is making money off their sensationalist accusations -- the company is guilty. But it wasn't that long ago that 'Dateline' was telling us about an evil automaker, selling dangerous car that exploded in minor crashes, with video footage to prove it . . . without telling us about the overfilled gas tank, the loose gas cap, and the hidden rockets used to ignite it all.

In any case, the real issue isn't this US company, it's the Chinese workers themselves, and the Chinese government. They should be the one setting standards and working conditions for themselves -- not us. Clean working conditions mean nothing to a man dead of starvation. It wasn't that long ago that Chinese were dying in droves of just that-- starvation. Even today, millions of Chinese die from preventable maladies, and go without basic medical care. Why? Because they can't afford it. And until either you or 60 minutes start paying their medical bills, I don't believe you have the right to tell these people what jobs they can take, and what risks they can accept.

> "In the end it comes down to greed"

And you accuse me of oversimplifying?


RE: Clearly?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/10/2008 6:12:19 PM , Rating: 1
Jason how can you bring up lead poisoning in China with a straight face and point the finger at us ? Isn't China the country that has been exporting goods loaded with lead, even in childrens toys ?


RE: Clearly?
By masher2 (blog) on 11/10/08, Rating: 0
RE: Clearly?
By on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By masher2 (blog) on 11/10/2008 10:09:10 PM , Rating: 1
> "The industry doesn't have to be destroyed, merely changed"

You're not paying attention. There are many people calling for a complete and total ban of all exporting of e-waste, under any conditions at all, safe or not. That would most certainly destroy the industry utterly. In fact, some nations have already passed such bans, and legislation has come up for vote in several US states.

> "But I suppose I should believe a layman, libertarian nutter about environmental policy over these journals?"

Didn't read your own link, did you? "These journals" is in reality the "unpublished figures" of one woman, who simply says the miscarriage rate is "much higher", without giving any specific data, or noting whether she's done standard epidemiological corrections for income, medical care, and other conditions in the area.

Rather than blindly accepting authority figures, why not use your own brain? Guiyu should, due to its population, have a significantly higher miscarriage rate, regardless of environmental conditions there.

Honestly, I'm surprised at the level of gullibility being displayed here. I don't doubt that problems exist in Guiyu. But, given the tens of thousands of people live in the city that don't work with e-waste, if the city truly was a "toxic wasteland" killing people like flies, don't you think there'd be just a little of protest over it? This isn't the China of 30 years ago -- there are regular protests for much more minor problems than deadly working conditions.


RE: Clearly?
By MadMan007 on 11/11/2008 1:14:01 PM , Rating: 2
To be legal a protest has to be registered and approved with the government ;) So basically it's what the government allows or all-out rioting.


RE: Clearly?
By Ringold on 11/11/2008 2:50:32 PM , Rating: 2
Um, not quite. I don't have the numbers handy, but there are tens of thousands of protests annually in China -- many of them, according to The Economist, over environmental issues. Don't confuse the Olympics with the status quo.


RE: Clearly?
By piroroadkill on 11/12/2008 3:44:04 AM , Rating: 2
http://www.china-pix.com/multimedia/guiyu/

To say the problems of Guiyu are not caused by massive mis-handling of tech trash is false.


RE: Clearly?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/10/2008 8:48:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Perhaps it is unsurprising, though very sad that Guiyu, which has the world's highest concentration of cancer-causing dioxins has six times the miscarriage rate as normal. And seven out of ten children in the town have higher than acceptable lead blood levels, something that has been causing severe mental problems and loss of fertility.


Now wait, this alone is not exactly condeaming. When did this start ? How long ago did the rise in mortality begin ? Does this correlate at ALL with when we started exporting " tech trash " ? Are there domestic factors attributing to this ?

quote:
I think that sums it up pretty well.


You would, because you're a " journalist ". Who, much like scientists these days, set out to prove a point.


RE: Clearly?
By arazok on 11/10/2008 12:22:10 PM , Rating: 5
I watched this last night. It was a good piece.

One angle that was glossed over was the poverty vs the environment argument. 60 minutes interviewed a Chinese worker, who said he could feel the effect on his lungs from burning components to separate the base materials. They asked him why he continued to work there, and he said because the money was good. He earned 8 dollars a day, which was substantially more then he could earn elsewhere.

60 minutes discussed this with an expert, highlighting that this person knew it was unhealthy but choose to do it anyways. He said that of course people are going to choose not to live in poverty, but this stuff is killing them, so the choice shouldn’t be available to them. Essentially saying that they were making the wrong choice. That was as deep as 60 minutes took the issue.

I love to see people living in 1st world conditions thinking they have a clue about life in the 3rd world. When you live in a cardboard box, malnutrition is going to kill you long before cancer will. I think it’s extremely misguided to take an opportunity away from these people, even if the opportunity is a poor one.


RE: Clearly?
By Gzus666 on 11/10/2008 12:26:18 PM , Rating: 1
Right, but unless Chinese have built in air filters that I don't know about, the air eventually will move around and hit other countries. Not a big fan of breathing in toxic fumes, not sure about you. Personally I don't think their short sighted well being is worth it, especially since they and their kids will just die from it anyway.

Bottom line is they are breaking the law sending that crap to other countries. They need to be jailed for this kind of crap.


RE: Clearly?
By arazok on 11/10/2008 12:47:49 PM , Rating: 5
Certainly breaking the law should result in prosecution. The argument I have is that it shouldn’t be against the law to export trash. It’s up to the receiving country to decide if it wants or does not want this sort of business.

I understand people think they are helping these countries by not giving them our trash, but you are only continuing the cycle of poverty. These sort of industries are the foundation of industrialization. As more people are lifted from poverty, they will demand better pollution controls, which will result in investments in better processing equipment, and further increases in the standard of living. You don’t jump from poverty to industrialization without taking these steps.


RE: Clearly?
By raejae on 11/12/2008 12:45:05 AM , Rating: 2
Except that the parent only mentioned the poverty issues in passing; the issue he brought up (and certainly the one I'm more concerned about--if it wasn't for this I'd agree with you) is that with this trash, what goes around comes around. Those fumes and toxic waste don't just sit there; the waste leeches into the ground and affects water supplies miles away, certainly with no respect to political boundaries. The same with the fumes; China's pollution affects OUR environment; it's not like China has a big shell around it that separates it from the rest of the world's environment.


RE: Clearly?
By jackedupandgoodtogo on 11/10/2008 12:41:18 PM , Rating: 1
It's interesting that you call this unsafe practice as an "opportunity". To me, being a slave isn't an "opportunity", or even a poor one, even though they get free food and lodging. But it's better than begging on the street, right? Would being a lab test subject for deadly diseases be considered an "opportunity" to the poor if they were paid well, but knew they'd die shortly, or suffer horrible physical consequences?

This is pure and simple greed and indifference to the suffering of people, exactly because it doesn't affect them. Anyone with a conscience would see that personal gain over other's suffering is not an "opportunity", no matter how much was offered. When people are poor, they do what they have to do to survive or to support others. It's called sacrifice, something the not-so-poor forget or never knew. It's not an "opportunity".


RE: Clearly?
By arazok on 11/10/2008 12:56:15 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
being a slave isn't an "opportunity"


A slave is forced to work for nothing. I believe these people are free to leave at any time, and are compensated very well (by their standards).

quote:
Would being a lab test subject for deadly diseases be considered an "opportunity" to the poor if they were paid well, but knew they'd die shortly, or suffer horrible physical consequences?


Possibly, yes. It would be up to me to weigh the pros and cons. So long as I understand what I’m getting into, it would be my choice. If I was poor, and I knew that this money could help send my child to school, so they could live a better life, then I might just do it.


RE: Clearly?
By MadMan007 on 11/10/2008 1:17:57 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't you know, profit > all. That's the capitalist way and the Chinese are just being the best capitalist they can! /sarcasm


RE: Clearly?
By cocoman on 11/10/08, Rating: 0
RE: Clearly?
By grenableu on 11/10/2008 5:53:58 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
but this stuff is killing them, so the choice shouldn’t be available to them.
So our government should not only play nanny to our own citizens now, but citizens in other countries also? Whatever happened to freedom? Eating red meat increases your chances of cancer also, should the US government ban Chinese from steak dinners too?

Personally if I had the choice between making 8 bucks a day taking apart cell phones, or making 50 cents working twice as long in a rice paddy, I think I'll take the former, even if it does mean a little increase in my risk of cancer.


RE: Clearly?
By chick0n on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By arazok on 11/10/2008 12:57:13 PM , Rating: 5
You have repeatedly taken up positions to show yourself to be an ideologue and an idiot.


RE: Clearly?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By arazok on 11/10/2008 6:43:44 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry, try again.


RE: Clearly?
By kellehair on 11/10/2008 1:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
"Clearly tech trash is an epidemic of massive proportions"

That line jumped out at me as well. I never watch 60 Minutes but I happened to see this story as I was flipping around looking for more football. The conditions in that town were horrendous and it was very easy to have an emotional response to the situation. Emotions aside however it is hard to say this is a massive epidemic.


RE: Clearly?
By DarkElfa on 11/10/2008 1:41:56 PM , Rating: 3
My complaint here is that the article makes it seem that America is just dragging our waste over seas and dumping it on defenseless old china which is BS. China has companies which are obviously asking for or purchasing this discarded equipment and then improperly disposing of it. That would make it china's problem and China's fault. If McDonald's sells me a burger and I use it to smother my child, is it their fault for selling me the burger? The problem here is the corruption, poor oversight and regulation and draconian human rights ethics.


RE: Clearly?
By DarkElfa on 11/10/2008 1:46:06 PM , Rating: 3
...and for the record, china is no third world country, they just don't give three craps about the safety of their people. I guess when you have 3 times the population you need, that is your attitude. I'm not condoning it, just stating was appears to be an obvious conclusion.


RE: Clearly?
By BadAcid on 11/10/2008 5:15:26 PM , Rating: 2
I think by the very definition, China is 2nd world.


RE: Clearly?
By jhb116 on 11/10/2008 10:49:19 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention - I don't think they (60 Minutes) could prove that the entire dump was from US sources. There is probably a bunch of electronics waste from every industrialize county - including CHINA.


RE: Clearly?
By piroroadkill on 11/12/2008 3:36:23 AM , Rating: 1
Uh, no shit, I'm pretty sure it never said it was only US stuff. However if you look across the internet, you can see asset labels taken from PCs thrown into the piles of junk there, clearly showing US institutions.

Also, apparently up to 80% of it is imported, so yes, China does shit on itself, too, I don't think anybody was saying otherwise


RE: Clearly?
By littlebitstrouds on 11/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By Samus on 11/10/08, Rating: 0
RE: Clearly?
By Pavelyoung on 11/11/2008 2:49:00 AM , Rating: 1
Why, in your view, is it the responsibility of the government to provide for everyone in the country? Shouldn't those people that don't have health insurance get a job and buy their insurance like the rest of us?

As far as China goes. Its a China problem, they are the ones buying this junk and they are the ones that should dispose of it properly. Just because they buy it from an American company doesnt mean you should hold that company responsible.


RE: Clearly?
By fibreoptik on 11/11/08, Rating: -1
RE: Clearly?
By JediJeb on 11/11/2008 12:20:21 PM , Rating: 2
I read through the whole list of replies and agruments for this post and I saw good and bad points to both sides of the argument. What I did not see was a solution to the problem! Ok it is illegal to ship the waste overseas, so we keep it here. I want to know who here that posted is going to be the first to offer their back yard to be used as a storage space for the waste? Who here who is buying a new iPod is willing to add $20 to the cost to help recycle their old one in a responsible manner?

This is just like used tires used to be, now any time you buy an new tire, a disposal charge is added to cover the cost of recycling your old ones, same thing for used car batteries. Everyone wants the tech trash to go away, but noone wants to pay for it. The number of cell phone included in that list is just rediculous. Stop changing cell phones because you want what is new and pretty, and start changing them when they finally die or are no longer supported. Same with computers, TVs or any other type of electronics.

Everyone wants to talk about how bad this is, but guess what, WE are the cause of the problem. There would be no electronic waste to send overseas if we did not generate it. There are many simple changes that can be made in the way we live that would help reduce this problem, we just have to take it upon ourselves to do it.


RE: Clearly?
By winterspan on 11/11/2008 7:05:53 PM , Rating: 2
Did you even watch the 60 minutes video or the documentary from current.TV? There are THOUSANDS of people being negatively affected by this as determined FROM OBJECTIVE EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS BY A CHINESE LABORATORY!

As us apparent nearly every time you speak, your attitude towards humanity and our world is sickening! How dare you defend this horrible situation as "at least they are employed". Shame on you! Where do you get such a disgusting perspective?

I'd suggest you take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why you are so cynical and indifferent to the plight of human suffering. You have a very dark soul...


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