Toxic Trade News / 10 March 2010
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Quit dumping old TVs overseas
by The Boston Globe (Globe Editorial)
10 March 2010 – The murky afterworld of dead electronics was brought home this winter when a massive shipment of old televisions from Brockton’s CRT Recycling was rejected by the government of Indonesia and returned to Boston. Old cathode ray TV tubes contain several pounds of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other toxins. The blowback from Indonesia is evidence of why the US, the world’s largest producer of electronic waste, should sign the Basel Convention that bans dumping in developing countries. The United States’ own Government Accountability Office says American regulations are “among the weakest in the world,’’ allowing a “virtually unrestricted’’ flow of old TVs and computers to the Third World.

In most cases, these shipments aren’t gifts or sales - they’re trash - and America should find a way to cope with its own electronic junk without polluting other countries.

The recent dispute involving the Brockton recycling firm illustrates the ill-defined nature of the export rules. The Indonesian government rejected the shipment after an environmentalist group claimed it was an illegal cargo of computer monitors. CRT Recycling said the shipment was legal because it contained televisions that were going to be reused. Environmentalists say what usually happens is that spent electronics goods are thrown into dumps where poor scavengers risk open-air burning and acid baths to procure gold, silver, and copper. This primitive process, which is exploding in Asia and Africa, poisons the surrounding air and water. A 2008 GAO report cited how children in Guiyu, China, a center of electronic waste, have blood lead levels more than 50 percent higher than US limits set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a candidate, President Obama said reducing global e-waste “starts with us. We’re the wealthiest nation on earth. We’ve got to lead by example and by deed.’’ His administration is proposing $1 million in the FY 2011 budget to research ways to “mitigate human exposure and environmental releases’’ from e-waste. It’s a disappointingly small gesture. It is much more important for the United States to mitigate such "human exposure’’ by stopping the dumping.

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