The Wild West of Electronic Waste

For more than a decade, the precious metallic component of discarded electronic devices has been fueling a polarized international trade in potentially hazardous materials. In countries where labor is cheap, the prospect of recovering trace amounts of gold or platinum entices communities to discount heavily the toxic risks and health effects of chronic exposure.

IRVINE , CALIFORNIA – One Troy ounce (31 grams) of gold is now selling for approximately $1,150 on the open market. The equivalent weight of platinum sells for $1,450. High prices encourage more mining, but they don’t begin to cover the cost to human health – and to the earth itself.

For example, thousands of children in China’s Henan Province are sick from lead poisoning, because they live near a facility operated by Henan Yuguang Gold ampamp; Lead Company, one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates.

But high prices are also encouraging many more people to extract precious metals from existing products – at great danger to themselves and others. Indeed, the world’s population throws away nearly 10 ounces of gold and five ounces of platinum for every ton of cell phones that are discarded in landfills or incinerated.

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