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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 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.


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