US EPA urges recycling, not dumping, computers
WASHINGTON - Where do worn-out computer monitors and televisions go when they die? Under a new recycling program proposed yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fewer of the lead-contaminated relics would be buried in local landfills.
As American consumers and businesses update to newer models, they will retire 250 million computers over the next five years, the EPA estimates.
The cathode-ray tube in many a computer monitor holds about eight pounds of lead, which is used to shield the viewer from harmful X-rays generated by the screen. Lead has been linked to many harmful physical and mental health effects, especially in children.
The EPA said it will soon publish proposed rules that would change the classification of cathode-ray tubes to reusable products, rather than waste. The new definitions are designed to encourage more reuse and recycling by companies that salvage industrial materials.
In a report issued in February, two environmental groups estimated that the 500 million computers in use worldwide contain 1.58 billion pounds (716.7 million kg) of lead and 632,000 pounds (286,700 kg) of mercury. About 70 percent of the heavy metals found in U.S. landfills is from such so-called \"e-waste\" as discarded circuit boards, wires and steel casings, according to the groups, Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
Mercury has been linked to neurological disorders and birth defects, and is especially dangerous because its effect on the human body worsens cumulatively with prolonged exposure.
The EPA also wants to discontinue its designation of the glass screens in televisions and monitors as waste to encourage more recycling.
In addition, the EPA wants to bolster regulations of household items that contain mercury, such as thermometers and many components of switches and sprinkler systems.
Under its proposal, the EPA would treat mercury-containing computer screens and televisions as \"universal waste,\" requiring handlers to follow regulations to keep them out of landfills.
The EPA has similar regulations for household items like batteries, lamps and pesticides.
Story by Chris Baltimore
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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