Nineteenth century labor conditions and 21st century technology are clashing in impoverished areas of Asia, where millions of tons of obsolete high-tech gear are shipped from the U.S. to be stripped of valuable parts. The practice, which is highly dangerous for both workers and the environment, is documented in a new report released today by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition of San Jose and the Seattle-based Basel Action Network. The report documents unsafe practices ranging from tending coal-fires to melt lead solder off of circuit boards to using nitric and hydrochloric acids to extract gold from computer chips. Most workers wear no protective gear whatsoever, the sludge produced by the extraction processes is dumped into rivers and irrigation ditches, and black ash from coal and chemical fires coats entire villages. The U.S. is one of only three countries (the others are Haiti and Afghanistan!) that hasn’t ratified the 1989 Basel Convention to regulate international trade in toxic material.
Get Grist in your inbox