Techno-trash poses dire threat to human health
October 2, 2011
UNDER the cover of darkness, thousands of used computers, electronic goods and televisions are being secretly dumped all over the state and much of the so-called 'e-waste' is ending up as toxic landfill.
The burial of millions of items over the past decade is threatening to poison the environment, says Professor Ravi Naidu, the managing director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment.
Professor Naidu, who has been studying the legacy of e-waste, has warned that the toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, mercury and zinc found in old computers, monitors, televisions and other electronic goods are seeping into the ground and threatening groundwater supplies.
In the past decade about 84 per cent of e-waste was dumped in landfill sites, many of which were not lined to prevent leaching, Professor Naidu said.
'No fewer than 234 million electronic waste items were sent to landfill in 2009,' he said. 'As many of our landfills are not actually designed to accommodate e-waste, we run a high level of risk if contaminated water escapes from them.'
He said there was a risk of transfer to humans if people were using contaminated groundwater for irrigation of food crops and long-term exposure could have a serious effect on human health.
A study last year for the Department of the Environment, a review of the application of landfill standards, reveals that contamination of groundwater near some landfill sites is inevitable, and in some cases the pollution of groundwater has already occurred.
Bureau of Statistics figures reveal Australians are the highest users of new technology in the world. An ABS study has found that 'waste from obsolete electronic goods or e-waste is one of the fastest-growing waste types'. In 2007-08, 31.7 million new televisions, computers and computer products were sold in Australia.
In the same year, 16.8 million were thrown away and 88 per cent ended up in landfill.
But, even when e-waste is being sent for recycling, the relatively high cost has spawned a black market in which it is shipped overseas illegally and dumped in developing countries, polluting their environments.
The problem of disposing of e-waste and the high cost of recycling has sparked another problem with old televisions and computers being dumped secretly on the doorsteps of charities, says the National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations.
A recent association report said charities were reporting increases of up to 300 per cent of e-waste donations they cannot use.
There is little demand for resale, and the cost of recycling is prohibitive for charities, which end up having to bear the cost. Old television sets cannot be given away.
The report found that the public also viewed charities as an easy option for waste management and much of the e-waste was dumped at night or at weekends.
The federal government has released draft regulations for a proposed program of national recycling that aims to have 80 per cent of TVs, computers and computer parts recycled by 2021-22.
Article from The Sydney Morning Herald www.smh.com.au/