Environmental Protection Agency takes action against electronics recycler
by Thomas Olson, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
11 June 2009 – The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it has filed an administrative complaint and compliance order against EarthEcycle. The agency said it wasn't notified of cathode-ray tube exports the embattled electronic equipment recycler made to Hong Kong.
EarthEcycle, based in Tulsa, Okla., recently was alleged to have shipped electronic equipment abroad for extracting hazardous metals, which endangers workers in China and Africa. The equipment had been collected in March at two Pittsburgh-area charities' fundraisers.
The claims against EarthEcycle were made by the e-waste watchdog group, Basel Action Network. BAN, based in Seattle, traced seven EarthEcycle containers from equipment collection drives sponsored in March by the Washington County Humane Society, and by Allegheny County and the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.
Jeff Nixon, EarthEcycle's CEO, could not be reached yesterday. But a phone message said he was "tending to EPA investigative reports until completely satisfied."
CRTs, or cathode-ray tubes, in televisions or computer monitors can contain more than 6 pounds of lead. Lead is known to cause brain damage in children.
If EarthEcycle cannot settle the case with the EPA, it could be subject to unspecified penalties and criminal sanctions, according to the agency's Web site. For example, the EPA fined a California company $32,500 in July for exporting a container with 441 CRTs to Hong Kong.
The EPA's complaint stems from an investigation opened last week into EarthEcycle's export of e-waste that Hong Kong authorities intercepted and sent back. The EPA is investigating the company for violations of the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act, which requires companies to notify the agency when they export e-waste and to obtain prior approval from the receiving country.
"The compliance order addresses the immediate need to ensure that containers returned to the United States by Hong Kong officials are properly managed," EPA spokesman Dave Ryan said in a statement.
During a visit to Monroeville on Monday, Nixon denied selling damaged electronic equipment to shady operators abroad to extract dangerous metals. He said he had asked Hong Kong authorities to return containers of equipment EarthEcycle collected because he learned they were headed to "the wrong company," which he declined to name.
But BAN claims it was the one who alerted Hong Kong authorities. The watchdog group claims about 80 percent of electronic waste in the United States and Canada is not properly and safely recycled in North America but exported because of lax export enforcement.
BAN director Sarah Westervelt said she was "thrilled to see EPA follow through" on the group's efforts to expose mishandled e-waste.
After the Tribune-Review reported the EarthEcycle controversy two weeks ago, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Downtown charity for children with life-threatening conditions, decided to proceed with a scheduled collection fundraiser with EarthEcycle. It expects to receive $5,000 for every 100,000 pounds of discarded equipment, once it's weighed. Charity officials could not be reached yesterday.
"It seemed visions of dollar signs in the minds of local charities that work to help children and animals was drowning out the hard images of toxic e-waste dumping in developing countries, which irreparably harms children and animals there," Westervelt said.
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