Mercury News/Knight Ridder News Service reporter Tim Johnson has revisted the electronic waste dumping grounds of Guiyu, China 4 years after the Basel Action Network first exposed the horrors e-waste exports to under-developed countries. Despite restrictions on both sides of the Pacific, toxic e-waste continues to be illegally exported China, India, and Vietnam, as well as Africa to be ‘recycled’…or disassembled for any reclaimable precious metals or redeemable materials. Poor workers, including school-age children, are exposed to heavily toxic chemicals that have lasting physiological and neurological effects. Lest we forget, exporting to these nations also yields tremendous environmental degradation from illegal dumping and e-waste incineration.
GUIYU, China - When discarded computers vanish from desktops around the world, they often end up in Guiyu, which may be the electronic-waste capital of the globe.
The city is a sprawling computer slaughterhouse. Instead of offal and blood, its runoff includes toxic metals and acids. Some 60,000 laborers toil here at primitive electronic-waste recycling - if it can be called that - even as the work imperils their health.
Computer carcasses line the streets, awaiting dismemberment. Circuit boards and hard drives lie in huge mounds. At thousands of workshops, laborers shred and grind plastic casings into particles, snip cables and pry chips from circuit boards. Workers pass the boards through red-hot kilns or acid baths to dissolve lead, silver and other metals from the digital debris. The acrid smell of burning solder and melting plastic fills the air.
The Bush administration and congress continue to ignore the problem on the Federal level. California remains the only state to have adopted any kind of export restriction. Under California's 2003 E-waste Recycling Law, recyclers are prohibited from exporting unprocessed devices to developing countries. Recyclers who ignore the restriction are prohibited from participating in the state's lucrative $60 million per year e-waste recycling program.