Nakagawa-Ewaste - 1 EarthTrends Featured Topic: Toxic...

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1 EarthTrends Featured Topic: Toxic Trade: The Real Cost of Electronics Waste Exports from the United States Source: EarthTrends Environmental Essay Competition Winner Author: Layne Nakagawa Editors: Amy Cassara and Tom Damassa Date Written: June 2006 lectronic waste, or "e- waste", is a broad term that refers to end-of-life consumer electronics, including televisions, computers and monitors, audio/stereo equipment, VCRs, DVD players, video cameras, telephones, fax and copy machines, mobile phones, wireless devices, and video game consoles. In 2003, the United States alone generated 2.8 million tons of electronic waste and only recovered (re-used or recycled) 290 thousand tons, leaving the rest to enter into the municipal waste stream (EPA 2003). One of the largest obstacles in recycling e-waste is the lack of proper domestic facilities to sort and handle the various materials, many of which are hazardous. In the United States, waste is frequently exported to developing countries, allowing producers and consumers to take advantage of very low labor costs (as low as $1.50 per worker per day in China) and less stringent environmental and occupational regulations (Puckett et al. 2002: 10). However, the dismantling of e-waste, particularly in parts of Asia and Africa, poses a significant health risk to workers and their communities (Puckett et al. 2002: 11). The promotion of responsible federal regulation, legitimate recycling programs, and corporately sponsored take-back agreements would work towards preventing the export of tons of e- waste and ultimately protect these overseas communities from the environmental and health impacts of the hazardous materials. E-Waste Toxins E-waste contains a number of toxic substances, including plastics and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, which can cause serious adverse health effects. Lead can be found in circuit boards and monitor cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Lead is particularly dangerous to the environment because of its ability to accumulate and persist in plants, animals, and microorganisms (Puckett et al. 2002: 11). The bioaccumulation of lead in the human body is particularly harmful because its primary target is the central nervous system. Lead can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, causing retardation and behavioral changes. Infants and young children are particularly susceptible because of the impairment of cognitive and behavioral development it can cause (Ryan et al. 2004: 19A). Cadmium can be found in SMD (surface mount device) chip resistors, infrared detectors and semiconductors (Puckett et al. 2002: 11). Like lead, cadmium is particularly toxic to humans because it accumulates in the human body and poses an environmental danger due to both acute and chronic toxicity (Puckett et al. 2002: 11). Renal damage is the most common effect of cadmium toxicity. Cadmium that enters the system through the gastrointestinal tract resides in human kidneys with a half-life of 10-20 years (Nordberg et al. 1985).
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Nakagawa-Ewaste - 1 EarthTrends Featured Topic: Toxic...

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