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EPA lacks ‘adequate’ e-scrap data

United States – The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not doing enough to protect Americans from the health risks brought on by the country’s rapidly growing e-scrap volumes, the agency’s ‘watchdog’ inspector general Arthur Elkins has warned. For this, he points the finger of blame at a data gap.

According to Elkins, the USA disposed of or incinerated 1.77 million tons of e-scrap in 2009 – a practice that makes people susceptible to ‘cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage and diminished intelligence’, he claims. Furthermore, despite the boom in e-scrap and numerous reports on the toxic metals commonly found inside the devices, ‘EPA does not have adequate information to ensure effective e-waste management and conserve valuable resources,’ Elkins comments.

He says the big question first raised within the agency back in 2004 remains where and how e-scrap is accumulating. ‘Without such information, EPA cannot track the progress of its efforts to support its waste management hierarchy goal of promoting e-waste recycling and reuse over disposal,’ Elkins argues.

Strategic blueprint

Aware that EPA is co-operating with the Obama administration on a ‘national strategy blueprint’ for e-scrap, Elkins stresses that this does not offer a definition of what constitutes e-scrap or of what parts pose the most danger if disposed of improperly. ‘Further, the national strategy does not seek to address the lack of a clear and consistent definition,’ Elkins remarks.

EPA has cited budget cuts as the reason for its lack of action on the recommendation to have full-time monitoring of firms that export electronic waste. ‘Instead, EPA will continue to inspect electronics recyclers as part of its routine compliance monitoring and enforcement efforts,’ an agency representative has stated.

Besides stepping up its game to ensure hazardous materials such as arsenic, lead and mercury are properly handled, Elkins believes EPA can go to much greater lengths to enable recovery and treatment of ‘valuable resources and highly-engineered materials electronic products are made from’ – especially rare earth metals.

While EPA understands the need for recycling, it still needs to establish ‘many specific e-scrap regulations’, according to Elkins. He concedes, however, that ‘progress has been made’ by pursuing a national strategy and encouraging voluntary programmes.

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