Saturday, October 04, 2008

USA - exporting toxic waste

GAO: U.S. exports harmful e-waste to other countries
see also GAO report

The U.S. is shipping used electronic devices containing toxic substances overseas with little regulation and enforcement to protect people and the environment in those countries, according to a government auditor's report.

Many U.S. electronics recyclers appear to be shipping used equipment containing CRTs overseas in violation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, and the agency's regulations cover only the export of used and discarded CRT monitors, not other electronic equipment, according to the report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (download PDF).

There is a "thriving" market for discarded electronic equipment overseas, but the EPA has "done little" to enforce its January 2007 rule that requires companies to notify the EPA before exporting CRTs, the GAO said. Electronics equipment containing CRTs can contain four pounds of toxic lead, said the report, which was released today.

"Concerns have grown ... that some U.S. companies are exporting these items to developing countries, where unsafe recycling practices can cause health and environmental problems," the GAO report said. "Imported used electronics that cannot be repaired are often recycled in developing countries by crude and inefficient means and with virtually no human health or environmental protection."

Earlier this year, 43 U.S. companies told GAO investigators, posing as buyers of CRTs from several Asian countries, that they would be willing to export broken CRT monitors in violation of the 60-day waiting period required in the EPA rule. GAO investigators had contacted 343 U.S. recyclers and sellers of used electronic equipment by e-mail, the report said.

Some of the 43 companies offering broken CRTs included "ones that publicly tout their exemplary environmental practices," the GAO said.

In addition, Hong Kong officials have intercepted and returned 26 containers of illegally exported CRTs since January 2007, the report said.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) ripped into the EPA, saying new leadership is needed there. A new U.S. president, elected in November, will appoint a new EPA administrator, and Green said he hopes the new leadership will be more focused on the hazards of e-waste.

The GAO report "hits the EPA very hard," Green said during a press conference. "The GAO's report [contains] blistering criticism of EPA's failure to enforce even the weak regulations that they have. We believe EPA's regulations should apply to all toxic e-waste, and not just CRTs, but we're surprised that they didn't even enforce the CRT rule."

Since the investigation, report co-author John Stephenson said he's concerned about taking his discarded electronics to a recycler. Many discarded products end up in China, India and other parts of Asia and Africa, and products that can't be reused are dismantled or destroyed, in some cases by children, said Stephenson, director of natural resources and environment at the GAO.

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