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[GreenYes] Fwd: Tech Trash Poisons Chinese Villages (fwd)
This is a follow up story to our report "Exporting Harm" which documents the human toll of globalization and free trade in toxics
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Tech Trash Poisons Chinese Villages
Thu Feb 28, 2:10 PM ET
By MARTIN FACKLER, Associated Press Writer

GUIYU, China (AP) - Chen Wu was glad when his village became a dumping
ground for discarded computer hardware from the United States.

Salvaging computer parts meant jobs for this rural area of China's
southeast — even if it did poison the drinking water and create an
unsightly landscape of broken circuit boards and hard drives.

But Chen's attitude changed two years ago when his 11-year-old daughter
grew weak, suffered nose bleeds and was diagnosed with leukemia. Two of
her classmates were stricken by the same illness.

Teachers say more than half the students complain of chronic breathing
problems.

"We did not care much when outsiders talked about the environmental
pollution here. We did not see any harm," said Chen, 50, who works at a
drug rehabilitation center. "But now our kids are getting sick."

Environmental groups consider Guiyu, a cluster of five villages in
Guangdong province about 150 miles northeast of Hong Kong, a cautionary
tale for poor countries that accept high-tech waste.

Over the last decade, these groups say, as much as 80 percent of the old
computers, monitors and printers collected for "recycling" in the United
States wound up in China, India and Pakistan, according to a report
released Monday by environmental groups, documenting the flood of e-waste
to the southeaster Chinese villages.

Most of the e-trash, which environmentalists say comes mostly from brokers
and recyclers who collect old equipment from larger U.S. businesses, ends
up in Guangdong, in Guiyu and other towns.

There, workers rip through the waste — trashed hardware bearing brand
names including Compaq, Apple and IBM — looking for every reusable part.
Some components are melted to extract precious metals such as gold and
platinum.

What's left — from sophisticated flat screens to low-grade plastics — is
burned or dumped beside Guiyu's rice paddies and waterways.

Toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead and dioxins are released into the
air and water.

The first sign of danger in Guiyu came when fish disappeared from a local
river in the early 1990s, not long after the first truckloads of foreign
computer waste rolled in.

Chemicals poisoned the wells, so drinking water must now be trucked in.

The odor of burning plastic is so strong that classes at the nearby
Dongyuan Middle School must sometimes be halted.

One teacher, who gave only his last name, Guo, said about 60 percent of
students and even many teachers cough and have trouble breathing.

"The villagers here are growing richer," he said, "but their wealth is
built atop the health of other victims."

This year alone, the United States will export as many as 10.2 million
discarded computers to Asia, including about 9 million to China, the
environmental groups' report said.

It's hard to tell how much of it will end up in Guiyu, where the local
economy has come to depend on computer garbage despite China's 1996
banning of computers and monitors as waste.

Environmental authorities in Shantou, a city with jurisdiction over Guiyu,
say they have launched five crackdowns over the last two years, shutting
down hundreds of computer waste operations.

But most of these quickly reopened, they concede, often with the help of
village officials. The Beijing government has weak control in Guangdong, a
region where organized criminal gangs are strong.

Environmentalists estimate the region now has some 2,500 computer waste
businesses, mostly family-run. The industry may employ as many as 100,000
people, many of them migrants from elsewhere in China.

"People in Guiyu have made a living out of waste collection for
generations. They used to deal in pig bones and duck feathers. But now
it's integrated circuits," said the head of the Shantou environmental
bureau, who gave only his family name, Kuang.

Officials in Guiyu refused to comment.

Imported computer waste has grown into a full-fledged underground economy
in this part of China, said one man who employs two dozen people stripping
apart desktop PCs from California and Japan.

The man, who asked to be identified only by his surname Li, said he buys
about 200 tons of computer waste a year from Taiwanese brokers for about
$600 per ton. The waste is smuggled via the port of Nanhai and trucked to
Guiyu.

Outside Li's dirt-floored workshop, workers use reed baskets to unload a
truck full of hard drives, keyboards and PC bodies.

Inside, workers rip them apart with hammers and screwdrivers. Others sift
the debris for anything of value — tiny nuts and screws, capacitors,
high-grade plastic.

In a smaller room, two women hold green circuit boards over open coal
fires. As the fumes of melting lead solder redden their unprotected faces,
they use pliers to pick off tiny black computer chips.

The recovered parts are separated into burlap sacks. Li said he sells them
by weight to buyers, mostly from Japan.

Li said he earns more than $12,000 a year — 15 times the average rural
salary in Guangdong.

"We're worried about our children, sure," said Li, who said he has a
15-year-old daughter. "But what can I do? This is our livelihood."

Ted Smith
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition/Campaign for Responsible Technology
760 N. First Street,San Jose, CA 95112
408-287-6707-phone;  408-287-6771-fax
http://www.sCa— org/svtc/
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Food for thought:  How Gandhi Defined the Seven Deadly Sins
· Wealth without work; · Pleasure without conscience; · Knowledge without character;· Commerce without morality;
· Science without humanity;· Worship without sacrifice;· Politics without principle




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