Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dangerous 'e-waste' work in India

India has an underground 'e-waste' industry that is very dangerous to the health of workers. Some workers extract the small amounts of precious metals from the discarded computers by using chemicals. The workers, some of whom are children; are exposed to the chemicals without gloves, face-masks and other safety equipment. They risk getting asthma and bronchitis and could become unemployable by the age of 40.

From this AFP article that we found at the Daily Times, we read more about the dangerous underground business.

Asif, aged seven, spends his days dismantling electronic equipment in a tiny, dimly lit unit in east Delhi along with six other boys.

“My work is to pick out these small black boxes,” he said, fingers deftly prising out integrated circuits from the pile of computer remains stacked high beside him.

His older brother Salim, 12, is also hard at work instead of being at school. He is extracting tiny transistors and capacitors from wire boards.

The brothers, who decline to reveal how much they earn a day, say they are kept frantically busy as increasing numbers of computers, printers and other electronic goods are discarded by offices and homes.

The risks posed to those who handle the cast-offs are clear to T K Joshi, head of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi.

He studied 250 people working in the city as recyclers and dismantlers over 12 months to October 2009 and found almost all suffered from breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis.

“We found dangerously high levels – 10 to 20 times higher than normal – of lead, mercury and chromium in blood and urine samples,” he told AFP.

“All these have a detrimental effect on the respiratory, urinary and digestive systems, besides crippling immunity and causing cancer.”

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