From Publishers Weekly
Driven by built-in obsolescence and the desire of consumers for smaller, faster and sleeker hardware, millions of discarded plastic computer casings, lead-infused monitors, antiquated cellphones and even dead TV remote controls—the "effluent of the affluent"—are piling up annually in America's landfills, leaching dangerous toxins, including lead, mercury and arsenic, into the nation's water tables. Such cast-off "e-waste" is also being shipped to countries like India and China, where for pennies a day workers without masks or gloves boil circuit boards over primitive braziers to extract microchips (along with a slew of noxious elements), after which the silicon chips are bathed in open vats of acid to precipitate out micrograms of gold. In either instance, according to this alarming and angry study, the way in which America currently handles its cyber-age waste amounts to an ongoing but underreported environmental crisis. Grossman (Watershed: The Undamming of America) points to recycling regulations in Europe as models and demands that manufacturers of high-end technology assume more of the burden for safe disposal of discarded electronics. Her call for action is commendable and critical, but this book's often daunting jargon (pages are given over to a difficult discussion of different kinds of bromodiphenyl ethers and their varying impact on the environment) sometimes undercuts its passion. (May)
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Word is getting out about a metastasizing environmental and health threat: high-tech trash, or e-waste, our cast-aside computers and cell phones, devices dense with toxic substances. Environmental journalist Grossman takes readers on an eye-opening, even shocking tour of the cyber underground, clearly and methodically explicating the science, politics, and crimes involved in the mishandling of the ever-increasing tonnage of e-waste. Grossman tracks the entire electronics manufacturing process, from mining the heavy metals used in digital machines and gadgets to the serious yet underreported pollution generated by the production of silicon chips. Then there are alarming discoveries regarding the brominated flame retardants used in electronics, poisonous compounds now found in our food and our bodies, and the appalling conditions under which exploited laborers in China, India, and Nigeria break up and burn e-waste, absorbing deadly chemicals that are also released into rivers and the atmosphere. There is an urgent need for e-waste regulation, and Grossman's informative, harrowing, and invaluable report, as well as Giles Slade's Made to Break (2006) and Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land (2005), are essential for informed public discourse and action. Donna Seaman
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