Professor Calls For International Effort To Manage Electronic Waste
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
While much of the world is still buzzing about the announcement of the sixth-generation iPhone last week , some experts are more concerned about what will happen to its predecessors – and what impact they could have on the health of the world’s children in the years ahead.
In a keynote address scheduled to be presented Monday morning at the CleanUp 2013 scientific contamination conference in Melbourne, professor Ming Hung Wong of Hong Kong Baptist University is calling for the global community to redouble its efforts to reduce the increasing amounts of potentially toxic electronic waste being produced.
“Electronic waste (or e-waste) is the world’s fastest growing waste stream, rising by 3-5 percent every year, due to the decreased lifespan of the average computer from six years to two,” Wong said in a statement Sunday.
“In countries such as Australia the disposal of e-waste in landfills generates a potent leachate, which has high concentrations of flame retardant chemicals and heavy metals,” he added. “These can migrate through soils and groundwater and eventually reach people via tap water and the food chain.”
Even some well-intentioned recycling efforts are causing potential harmful emissions, Wong explained. In many Asian or African countries, e-waste from developed countries is being recycled under what he calls extremely primitive conditions, which in turn can lead to extensive pollution of air, water and food. Over time, those toxins can find their way from country to country, posing a potential global risk to people.
“The toxic chemicals generated through open burning of e-waste include PCDD, PBDEs, PAHs, PCBs and heavy metals (especially lead) have given rise to serious environmental contamination,” Wong said. “Some of these toxic chemicals are known to build up in fish especially, which may then be traded locally and around the world.”
“In general, any food items originating in e-waste processing areas are highly contaminated, leading to sharp increases in cancers and heart disease and other ailments in people who consume them,” he added.
Furthermore, he said that research has demonstrated that there is a risk of toxic chemicals created by electronic waste being transmitted to unborn children, or to infants through their mother’s milk.
“At the same time these e-waste contaminated sites are extremely hard to clean up due to the complex chemical mixtures they contain,” Wong said. “However the time may soon be coming when developing countries will no longer accept e-waste from consumers in developed countries – and every nation will have to take care of its own.”
The total global e-waste production has been estimated at as much as 50 million metric tons per year, the professor said. Based on those numbers, he said that it is “clear” that there is “an urgent need to manage e-waste more efficiently in all countries and through better international collaboration.”