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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

April, 2006

 

Poisonous Little Electronic Devices
By Marie Siegenthaler

Last February Assembly Member Lori Saldana (D-San Diego) released a bill that would forbid California manufacturers from using hazardous materials in the production of all electronics.
This bill is specifically targeted at small electronic such as CD players, cell phones, iPods, and other products that contain dangerous metals that don't last longer than two years before thrown in the trash.

Planned obsolescence, when manufacturers build a product that will become obsolete within a short time frame, has played a great role in stuffing landfills with these toxic products. When electronics are discarded after breaking or due to obsolescence, they are usually shipped to developing countries such as India, South Africa, and China to be dumped.

About 70% of all landfills' heavy metals can be sourced to electronics. We could be saving lives by replacing the heavy metals in electronics with safer ones. As this is a feasible act there is no reason why California, an environmentally aware state, shouldn't be making strides toward these changes.

The replacement of heavy metals in electronics could result in less ecosystem toxicity in countries where they are dumped.

Cadmium, one of a few elements which literally serves no purpose in the human body, can poison the body even at low levels and be accumulated readily in ecosystems.

Lead, another element which does nothing for the body, can account for up to 6% of the weight in a typical computer monitor. Mercury is also present in e-waste and easily accumulated in watersheds. All of these are leeching and accumulating into foreign soils and watersheds to poison first the land, then the people, and finally the economy.

While this bill will not prevent the actual waste, forbidding heavy metals in electronics could prove to have a substantial effect on the well-being of countries where we dump e-waste.

Even if this bill doesn't eventually pass, it is a powerful step for awareness of the toxins used in electronics and what happens when they are cast into landfills.

California-the 6th largest economy on the globe-could be setting an example for nations such as China who have no such bill to protect their environment. Even though the European Union has regulations against heavy metals in electronics and California has laws against use of heavy metals in video displays, the United States collectively has yet to catch on.

For the present time, be careful to manage the disposal of your electronics. Apple and Dell both recycle computers and iPods at their respective stores. Batteries can be turned in to be recycled at most hardware stores. Try and use your devices as long as possible before throwing them out.

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