September 18, 2008

U.S. Toxic E-Waste Policing Poor

U.S. regulators do little to enforce laws against exporting toxic waste from TVs, computers and other electronic equipment, congressional investigators report.

Only exports of cathode-ray tubes, used in analogue televisions and old-style desktop CRT computer screens, are regulated, the Government Accountability Office said.

And even these are being improperly exported, the investigative arm of Congress said in a report requested by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Exporters of e-waste are required to notify the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and get consent from receiving countries. But they generally don't, the GAO report said.

Of all the Asian and West African countries receiving U.S. electronic waste, only Hong Kong turned back 26 containers of used CRT monitors -- because the shipments violated Hong Kong hazardous-waste import laws, not because of U.S. action, the GAO said.

CRTs can contain up to 4 pounds of lead, which can cause neurological damage. Their contents is often disposed of unsafely by open-air wire burning to recover copper and acid baths to loosen metals, the report said.

The report blamed the EPA for doing "little" to enforce a 2007 rule restricting CRT exports.

EPA spokesman Timothy Lyons said the EPA made improving compliance with the rule a "priority," USA Today reported.

Lyons also said the EPA, responsible for protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment, had launched 20 investigations, issued one complaint and settled one case, USA Today said.