Friday, 18 August 2006
The Culprits

Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs)

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Lead The glass in computer screens and TVs contains  lead and other heavy metals. When broken, the  glass releases hazardous dust which can harm the nervous and circulatory systems, and damage children's cognitive development.

Liquid Crystal Displays  (LCDs)

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Mercury The elements that illuminate these increasingly  popular devices found in mp3 players, cell phones and TVs can cause damage to the brain, nervous and reproductive systems, the lungs, kidneys and other organs, and are harmful to a developing fetus. 

Computers    

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Copper Copper is found not only in computers but also in  the circuit boards of nearly every electronic device. Mining and smelting copper generates waste that can cause acid rain and release sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, arsenic, mercury and  cadmium into the environment.

Semiconductors

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Hundreds of  chemicals used  for microchip  manufacture  The production of the microprocessors at the core  of all high tech electronics is a chemical intensive  process, and involves many acutely toxic  compounds, including those known to damage the  nervous, respiratory, kidney, endocrine,  reproductive and liver systems.
Flame Retardant Plastic
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Polybrominated  diphenyl ethers  (PBDEs) The chemicals added to plastics used in consumer  electronics can cause thyroid hormone disruption, neurodevelopment deficits and cancer.Traces of  these chemicals can be found in foods purchased in U.S. supermarkets.

While high tech electronics are intact and used properly their materials generally pose no health  or environmental hazards. But it's when equipment is physically broken or improperly disposed  of that its toxics are released into the environment and high tech trash becomes a threat to our  health. 

The Numbers

In 2005 there were approximately one billion personal computers and over a billion cell phones in use worldwide.

The world generates twenty to fifty million metric tons of e-waste each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Discarded electronics account for approximately 70 percent of heavy metals and 40 percent of the lead found in U.S. landfills according to a 2001 EPA report.

250 million computers are expected to become obsolete between 2007 and 2008 and at least 200 million televisions will be discarded between 2003 and 2010.

Between 1992 and 2002, U.S. sales of consumer electronics, including PCs, quadrupled.

3 billion units of consumer electronics will become potential scrap between 2003 and 2010.

95 percent of American consumers do not know the meaning of “e-waste” and 58 percent are not aware of an electronics recycling program in their community.

Between two and four million tons of e-waste from the United States wind up overseas each year for low-tech recycling.

The Pollution and its Effect

Hundreds of thousands of people use municipal wells for drinking water that are within 3 miles of an EPA Superfund site in Silicon Valley.

Nearly every large high-tech electronics and semiconductor manufacturer that began operations in the 1970s or earlier has a Superfund site in its history.

Alan and Donna Turnbull and hundreds of their neighbors in Endicott, NY live in homes where the air they breathe has been contaminated by a chemical used to make semiconductors and which is considered a probable carcinogen.

A twenty-month-old boy in Oakland, California, was found to have levels of PBDEs (a flame retardant commonly used in consumer electronics) in his blood nearly three times higher than those at which scientists begin to see behavioral changes in lab rats