A groundbreaking investigation by an international coalition of environmental organizations in Seattle reveal 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 released a full report on the investigation entitled: Exporting Harm—The High-Tech Trashing of Asia.
The investigation uncovered an entire area known as Guiyu in Guangdong Province, along the Lianjiang River—a 4 hr 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 21st century wastes.
The operations involve men, women, and children toiling under primitive conditions, often unaware of the health and environmental hazards involved in the various tasks they perform, 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 tons of E-waste 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. Water is now 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 it's really dumping by another name. Yet to our horror, we further discovered that rather than banning it, the U.S. 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 United States daily."