Wednesday, 23 August 2006
ImageAn education of a different sort is provided by Elizabeth Grossman's new book "High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health" (Island Press, $25.95). We talk endlessly about the benefits of high tech but rarely examine the physical cost. What happens to all that lead found in TV and computer monitors? What happens to all the toxic waste created in the production of the microchips that make our cell phones, PCs and iPods operate? Grossman has the answer, and it isn't pretty. The average PC, for example, doesn't pose a problem sitting on your desk. But throw your CRT screen into a landfill and lead and other heavy metals can get into the environment. Beryllium dust from circuit boards can cause lung disease. Grossman points out that flame retardants used in plastic components are in some cases released while the equipment is still intact; traces of these have shown up in human blood, and the materials involved are known to have detrimental effects on animals. Proper PC disposal takes longer than people expect, but donating them for reuse is the best option, a partial solution but just one of many discussed in this eye-opening book.