Beware of E-waste as great health risk
By Tariq Farid
LAHORE: Hazardous E-waste has become one of the biggest health risks of this century in Pakistan, with rising trend of bulk imports of used and obsolete computers and other electronic equipment from the West, taking full advantage of “yet to be enacted E-waste laws” in the country.
The people, especially the youth, are buying ‘E-Waste of the West’ as branded computers due to lack of awareness about the grave risks it is posing to the environment, human life and animals.
“No one knows when Pakistan will be able to effectively cope with the problem of hazardous E-waste, perhaps not before the adults and children start suffering from serious health disorders by exposing to lead and other lethal chemicals present in E-waste,” says M Jamal, an environmental expert.
According to environmentalists, the toxic materials found in computer equipment include lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, barium etc, warning that - older the computer, the higher the level of toxic elements.
According to reports, one of the most toxic equipment is Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) present in monitors and monitor-converted TVs, which contain deadly metals such as lead, which damages the nervous and reproductive systems and poisons the blood and kidneys. It also adversely affects plants, animals and microorganisms. Cadmium, found in chips and infrared detectors, accumulates in kidneys and damages them.
Another heavy metal, mercury, which is used in a large number of electronic items, enters the food chain and harms the brain and kidneys.
There is no law in the country to effectively deal with E-waste hazards. The existing Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 does not cover the safe handling and disposal of hazardous E-waste and prevention of its import.
“Proper legislation and its implementation is the need of the hour to control this menace,” says M Jamal.
According to experts, E-waste is a global phenomenon, but the problem in Pakistan is of greater magnitude, as it has become a dumping ground for obsolete electronic products.
Talking to Daily Times, Punjab Environment Protection Agency Director General Maqsood Ahmad Lak has said that there is a dire need for focusing on the management of E-waste, which is a modern era threat to the environment.
Although Pakistan is a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the government has done little to check and regulate toxic imports.
According to a UN report, the world collectively generates 20 to 50 million tonnes of E-waste every year.
Sensing the gravity of the problem at global level, an international conference, Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, is being held on January 8 to 11, 2012 in Tehran. A delegation from Pakistan has also been invited to participate in the conference.
It is learnt that tens of thousands of used computers, its accessories and other obsolete electronic equipment, which contain large amount of hazardous waste, are being shipped to Pakistan with complete disregard to their lethal effects.
These obsolete electronic products, which are difficult and expensive to dispose of in developed countries because of their hazardous nature, are imported and used as cheap and ‘second-hand machinery’ in Pakistan.
“It is a well known fact the developed countries get rid of their undesirable computers and other equipment considered scrap by sending shipments out to developing countries and Pakistan is a prime example of such behaviour,” says environmental expert Dr Iqbal.
It is observed that a large quantity of computers, its accessories and related gadgets are used in houses and offices, exposing adults and children to toxic elements. “In order to avoid such type of waste and consequent hazards, it is important not to import old and out-dated electronic gadgets, especially computers and cellular devices,” says Dr Iqbal. He says besides a host of heavy metals – which continue to pollute our water bodies, land, soil, and air – the disposal of computers and other E-waste requires scientific supervision and proper channels. This modern era problem has not so far received much attention from non-governmental or environmental bodies in the country. So it is alarming that the workers in the computer recycling industry as well as consumers who buy used equipment due to its low cost are oblivious to the threats to their health.