"The report provides a compelling case for immediate action in both countries to address workplace health and safety issues, as well as waste management practices," said Dr. Kevin Brigden, a Greenpeace International scientist, who collected the samples. "The data reinforces the need for the electronics industry to eliminate the use of harmful substances in their products at the design stage and take responsibility for their products at the end of their lifecycle."
The release of the report, "Toxic Tech: Recycling of electronic wastes in China and India: workplace and environmental contamination", comes a few days after the European Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) came into effect on 13th August (1). The directive, which regulates the handling of e-waste in the EU region by making electronics producers responsible, has yet to be implemented in many EU countries. Despite an EU ban on exports of hazardous waste, including e-waste, to developing countries, there is increasing evidence of e-waste being sent to Asia from Europe illegally (2). The majority of the waste being exported to Asia comes from the United States (3).
Concentrations of lead in dust samples collected from some workshops in China were hundreds of times higher than typical levels of household dusts. The levels of lead in dust collected from similar workshops in India were approximately 5-20 times background levels (4). Contamination was not limited to the recycling yards; dust collected from the homes of two e-waste recycling workers in China had higher levels of heavy metals, particularly lead, compared to dust collected from one neighbouring house with no link to e-waste recycling.
Samsung, Nokia, Sony and Sony Ericsson have made commitments to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals such as PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in the manufacturing of their products (5). LG Electronics is the latest to join the list of companies in committing to substitute these harmful substances with safer alternatives.
"With the most recent commitment of LG, the five 'first in class' companies in the electronics sector with 55% share of the global mobile telephone market and Sony, which is the leader in the electronics industry, show that it is possible to make electronic equipment without the use of these hazardous substances and still remain profitable", said Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner.
Other companies like Dell, IBM/Lenovo, HP, Siemens, Acer, Toshiba, Panasonic, Fujitsu-Siemens and Apple have so far, failed to commit.
Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner, +31 6531 28904
Mhairi Dunlop, Greenpeace International Media Officer, +31 646 162 026
A copy of the report is available here.
1. EU Member States should have implemented the Directive into national legislation by August 2004 and by August 2005, producers/importers should have had systems in place to take back and manage WEEE. Most EU Member States are at least one year late in transposing the Directive.
2. The EU ban is part of the Basel convention banning hazardous waste export from Rich to poor countries. Several reports by EU authorities (such as IMPEL) have documented this illegal trade in e-waste. Please see http://www.icer.org.uk/
3. From the “Exporting Harm” report in 2002 http://www.ban.org/
4. Lead is a toxic heavy metal, and one of the hazardous chemicals used by the electronics industry that is to be banned by a European Directive on the Restriction of the Hazardous chemicals (RoHS) in electronic products, with exemptions.
5. BFRs are environmentally persistent chemicals, some of which are highly bioaccumulative and capable of interfering with normal brain development in animals.