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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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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.


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