The Environmental Impact of Electronic Waste

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The Environmental Impact of Electronic Waste
In today's high paced modern world, technology is moving faster and faster and boosting the speed of our everyday lives. Every eight months there is a new model of some type of technological device reaching the market and the old is being discarded as it is unable to keep up with our fast paced society. Where have the millions of old, unwanted computers and other electronics gone? Many have suspected, that relatively few old PC's are being recycled and that most are stored in warehouses, basements, and closets or have met there end in municipal landfills or incinerators. In recent years a great deal of attention has been devoted to the environmental impact of computers and other electronic equipment as these items pose a massive problem for municipal landfills and hazardous effects to human life. Users' manuals can be a pain to read, nevertheless are pretty handy, they cover most of everything we need to know about newly purchased equipment. What is not covered in the users' manual are the toxic chemicals and heavy metals that go into computers and other electronic devices, nor the waste computer-manufacturing generates. Of the approximately one thousand different substances included in a typical PC, every computer contains five to eight pounds of lead. Exposure to lead and other toxic ingredients, such as mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and some plastics, may stun brain development, disrupt hormone functions, cause cancer, or affect reproduction (Slone, 2000). Manufacturers combine lead; the leading toxic material found in electronic equipment, with tin to form solder, which is used in the production of circuit boards found inside electronic products. Lead is highly toxic and can harm children and developing fetuses, even at low levels of exposure. Brominated flame retardants, used in circuit boards and plastic casing, do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They have also been known to interfere with thyroid and estrogen hormone systems and exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioral problems. Rechargeable batteries, contacts and switches found in computers and other electrical devices may contain lead, mercury and cadmium. Consequently, these toxins can bioaccumulate in the environment, particularly within the food chain, which is the major route of exposure. This route of exposure is known to be a possible health risk, primarily affecting the kidneys and bones. A Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) is the main component found in a television and computer monitors containing lead and exposure can cause intellectual impairment in children and damage to the nervous, blood and reproductive system in adults (SVCT, 1999). The quantity of discarded electronic products around the world has sky rocketed of the past few years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over twenty million computers become obsolete in 1998, but only thirteen percent were reused or recycled. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released a report last February predicting that five million computers will become obsolete between 1997 and 2007, resulting in six billion pounds of plastic and one and a half billion pounds of lead. The Worldwatch Institute reported in its annual "Vital Signs" report that nearly three million tons of electronic waste was landfilled in 1997 (O'Connell, 2002). Electronic waste is now the fastest growing element of solid waste, which makes up five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide. Due largely to the toxicity of electronic waste, there is a growing concern of what exactly is being done to help deal with the municipal landfills that are being contaminated and potential health related issues that could arise if not dealt with in a timely manner. In the past, landfills were located in areas thought to have little value. These areas...
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