Over 4.5 lakh children across the country are exposed to toxic chemicals as they handle discarded electronic gadgets or devices, according to a new report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India that was released on Monday, on the eve of the Earth day.
E-waste typically includes discarded computer monitors, motherboards, cathode ray tubes, mobile phones and chargers, CDs, headphones, LCD/plasma TVs, AC, refrigerators, etc. With increasing use of these in our everyday life, e-waste is also piling up.
Of the total 12.5 lakh MT of e-waste generated in India, only four per cent is recycled. The remaining refuse material is handled by unorganized scrap dealers, who employ mostly children for the job, the report states.
As they smash and burn the scrap to recover copper, cadmium and small amounts of other precious metals, kids come into contact with over 1,000 toxic substances, which may cause irreversible damages to liver, kidney and the nervous system.
Mumbai, the financial capital of India, holds the dubious distinction of being the top generator of e-waste. The city produces a staggering 96,000 metric tonnes of the hazardous rubbish every year, way above Delhi that junks 67,000 metric tonnes of e-waste.
Highlighting these hazards, the report advocates the need for legislations to enforce proper collection, segregation and distribution of e-waste as well as keeping children off the trade.
"Almost half of all unused and end-of-life electronic products lie idle in landfills, junkyards and warehouses", says the report.
These toxic chemicals, metals and other substances in these dumped items not only pose a health risk to those handling e-waste without protection, but also seep into the atmosphere through soil, water and air if they are left to disintegrate in the sun.
"Recyclers may suffer liver, kidney and neurological disorders. This deadly mix of toxins can cause severe health problems in most recyclers who are not fully aware of the health risks", said Dr B K Rao, chairman of ASSOCHAM health committee.
India is likely to generate 15 lakh metric tonnes of e-waste by 2015, says the study. It also identifies poor sensitization and awareness about waste management, low organized recycling, cross border flow of waste equipment into India and lack of coordination between authorities as the major issues responsible for bad management and non- involvement of municipalities.