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High-Tech Toxic Trash From USA Found to be Flooding Asia

A groundbreaking investigation by an international coalition of environmental organizations has revealed that huge quantities of hazardous electronic wastes (E-wastes) are being exported to China, Pakistan and India where they are processed in operations that are extremely harmful to human health and the environment. The organizations -- Basel Action Network (BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) with support from Toxics Link India, Greenpeace China and SCOPE (Pakistan) -- have produced a astonishing new report on the investigation entitled: Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia.

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is a 20 year old community-based coalition that advocates for cleaner production, and sustainable occupational and environmental health practices within the electronics industry. Basel Action Network (BAN) is a global network of activists working for global environmental justice and against trade in toxic wastes, toxic technologies and toxic products.

The investigation uncovered an entire area known as Guiyu in Guangdong Province, surrounding the Lianjiang River just 4 hours drive northeast of Hong Kong where about 100,000 poor migrant workers are employed breaking apart and processing obsolete computers imported primarily from North America. The workers were found to be using 19th century technologies to clean up the wastes from the 21st century.

The operations involve men, women and children toiling under primitive conditions, often unaware of the health and environmental hazards involved in operations which include open burning of plastics and wires, riverbank acid works to extract gold, melting and burning of toxic soldered circuit boards and the cracking and dumping of toxic lead laden cathode ray tubes. The investigative team witnessed many tons of the E-waste simply being dumped along rivers, in open fields and irrigation canals in the rice growing area. Already the pollution in Guiyu has become so devastating that well water is no longer drinkable and thus water has to be trucked in from 30 kilometers away for the entire population.

"We found a cyber-age nightmare," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of BAN. "They call this recycling, but itís really dumping by another name. Yet to our horror, we further discovered that rather than banning it, the United States government is actually encouraging this ugly trade in order to avoid finding real solutions to the massive tide of obsolete computer waste generated in the US daily.

BAN referred to the fact that the United States is the only developed country in the world that has failed to ratify the Basel Convention, a United Nations environmental treaty which has adopted a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the worlds most developed countries to developing countries. Further, the U.S. has actually exempted toxic E-waste from its own laws governing exports, simply because the material was claimed to be destined for recycling.

BAN and SVTC are calling on the United States to follow Europeís example and immediately implement the global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the United States to developing countries and likewise to solve the E-waste problem "upstream" by mandating that the electronics industry institute "take-back" recycling programs, toxic input phase-outs and green design for long-life, upgradeability and ease of recycling.

"Consumers in the U.S. have been the principal beneficiaries of the high-tech revolution and we simply canít allow the resulting high environmental price to be pushed off onto others," said Ted Smith, Executive Director of SVTC. "Rather than sweeping our E-waste crisis out the backdoor by exporting it to the poor of the world, we have got to address it square in the face and solve it at home, in this country, at its manufacturing source."

For a copy of the full report visit the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

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