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Electronic waste - Shockingly hazardous

Written by: Pavithra Rao


E-waste contains over 1,000 different substances and chemicals, many of which are toxic. Heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, mercury, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC), etc are the components of e-waste.

Lead: Lead causes damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, kidney and reproductive system in humans. It also gets accumulated in the environment and has acute and chronic effects on plants, animals and micro-organisms. Lead is used in glass panels and gaskets in computer monitors. It is also used in soldering printed circuit boards and other components.

Cadmium: Toxic cadmium compounds easily get accumulated in the human body, especially the kidneys. Cadmium constitutes SMD chip resistor, semiconductor chips and is even present in some older cathode ray tubes.

Once computers now pollutantsMercury: Mercury damages organs like brain, kidneys, as well as the foetus. When inorganic mercury spreads in water, it is transformed into methylated mercury and enters living organisms through the food chain, particularly via fish. Mercury is used in thermostats, sensors, relays, switches, medical equipment, lamps, mobile phones and in batteries.

Plastics (including PVC): Dioxin is released when PVC is burnt. PVC is used the most in plastics that is used in electronics. PVC elements are found in cabling and computer housings. The deadly elements in PVC can cause fatal health problems in people.

CRT: CRT monitors and TVs contain an average of 4 pounds of lead each. Excessive lead and other toxins pose a problem in landfills because they can leak into groundwater. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death.

Lead-Acid/Automotive Batteries: Lead batteries are principal source of power for automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, boats etc. These batteries contain sulfuric acid, which can burn skin on contact.

But mere realisation of e-waste hazards will not solve the problem. India's rate of computer obsolescence is growing dangerously. Of the nearly 8 million PCs in India, 2 million belong to Intel 486 or lower generation. And with regular software upgradation, a large amount of hardware waste will soon be added to the already existing e-waste, as beyond a point hardware upgradation becomes uneconomical.

Apart from this domestically produced e-waste, India has become a dumping ground for the developed nations. E-waste from the developed countries finds its way to recycling yards in India and other developing countries where poorly-protected workers dismantle them, often by hand, in appalling conditions. About 80 per cent of the e-waste generated in US is exported to India, China and Pakistan, only adding to the problem.

It's high time we wake up to the problem of e-waste and act accordingly. Every individual should part take in saving the environment from the deadly e-waste. Everybody today talks about saving the environment for our children but with the rate in which e-waste is growing, there shall be no tomorrow for us.

Remember, every time you buy that new cell phone or replace your old electronic appliances with new or even replace parts of your computer, you are adding to the problem of e-waste. So, the next time you develop that urge for replacing your electronic products, just ask yourself if you really need them!!

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