India is rapidly becoming a developed country in terms of the use of electronic equipments. Computers have become a necessity for each and every office, school and bank. Now companies are targeting homes of Indians and providing PCs at rates as low as Rs 10,000. But shining development has its dark side, too. In other words, India will generate more e-waste (electronic waste) in coming days. According to an estimate, India will import more than 4 million new as well as used computers. Yes, it is a fact now that India is becoming one of the greatest dumping hubs of e-waste with Delhi at its centre
Shastri Nagar and Seelampur in trans-Yamuna area are among many other scrap dumping and processing grounds in Delhi. These scraps contain Lead, Cadmium, Zinc, Mercury and various other toxic elements, which have the potential to harm human health and environment. But very few of those involved are aware of any such element present in the wastes that they are handling daily. Thus, they don’t feel that there is any need of protective gears against toxicity. “It contains only iron, copper and plastics. It doesn’t have any thing that can affect our health,” said Mansoor Ahmad, a scrap dealer of Shsatri Nagar. There were huge piles of e-scrap and labourers were disintegrating old computers, bare handedly. Most of them are from very poor background making them more vulnerable against the harmful extracts mentioned above. “We get Rs 125 daily. We are not aware of any harmful effects and don’t have any health problem,” told a scrap breaker Wasim Qurrasi. But toxicity of e-scrap works as a silent killer, as Dr M S Bhati, a local practitioner, indicated, “People come with problems of TB, asthma and skin diseases daily. Though they are un-aware of reasons behind these diseases, the fact remains that they are largely caused by their exposure to wastes they are handling daily.”
Toxic Links, a Delhi-based Non Governmental Oraganisation, says that India annually generates $ 1.5 billion worth of e-waste. Apart from homemade scraps, India imports 80 per cent of the e-waste generated by the US. A government official ‘disclosed’ the reason behind unchecked import of e-scrap and told ‘headlinesindia’ off the record, “What is e-waste for US is not same for us. In India, it is treated as asset and source of revenue generation and income.” About 25,000 workers are employed at scrap yards in Delhi where 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes of e-scraps are being handled every year. Computers account for 25 per cent of these scraps; TV screens, CDs, mobiles, cables, toner cartridges, light bulbs and tubes are other major contributors.
A report by Greenpeace in Dec 2005 revealed that thousands of workers in countries such as India, Pakistan and China had probably died over the past 20 years in accidents or as a result of exposure to toxic waste. Cadmium components may have serious impact on the kidneys and lungs. Cadmium is adsorbed through respiration and taken up with food. It has long half-life in the body and can easily be accumulated in amounts that cause symptoms of poisoning. Lead is very commonly used in the electrical and electronics industries. Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma or even death. Mercury is one of the most toxic yet widely used metals in the production of electrical and electronic applications. It is a toxic heavy metal that bio-accumulates causing brain, spinal cord, kidney and liver damage. Dioxin is a toxic byproduct of PVC plastics, which can cause endometriosis, an endocrine and immune disease causing allergies, asthma and chemical sensitivities in women. Other than these health concerns, toxic elements are equally harmful for environment as they mix with air and percolate into fresh ground water and open water sources.