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E-Waste Comes Home

In an ironic turn of events, the e-waste being reprocessed in China is coming home to us through imports. This includes lead1 in our food.

We noted in late 2007 that American Public Media's Marketplace reported, "In a provocative new study, professors at Ashland University in Ohio found highly leaded trinkets sold in the U.S. bore the chemical fingerprints of lead from old computers."

Now, in April 2013, comes a report from the BBC that rice imported into the United States, particularly from China and Taiwan, "...contains levels of lead far higher than regulations suggest are safe." That lead can come from many sources, including crop irrigation with untreated industrial effluent, but "...the increasing practice of sending electronic waste to developing countries - and the pollution it leads to - exacerbates the problem."

Turns out that the rice story isn't exactly new. A 2006 paper is titled, High levels of heavy metals in rice (Oryza sativa L.) from a typical E-waste recycling area in southeast China and its potential risk to human health. A 2012 study found that levels of carcinogens and metals like cadmium, copper, nickel, and lead in the rice paddies of e-waste processing areas of China were above international standards.

Beyond Asian rice, what other foods and in what other parts of the world does e-waste threaten our food and water? This is another reason why the ICT4D movement must embrace Green ICT.


1 The lead content within a typical board inside a computer or other equipment was reported in 2006 to range "from 150 to 500 mg/L, which are 30-100 times the regulatory level of 5 mg/L for classifying a waste as hazardous."