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Gulf Times: Mixing e-waste with rubbish could be dangerous

Wednesday, 10 September, 2008, 01:36 AM Doha Time

With no place for e-waste disposal, most service centres dump equipment with rubbish

By Arvind Nair

Where does all the electronic waste generated in Qatar – obsolete computers, condemned mobile phones etc – go? Are they dumped along with other rubbish into the landfill? If so, how dangerous is it?

Gulf Times tried to find out answers to some of these questions from various sources since an official version has not been available.

Qatar does not yet have a place where e-waste can be safely deposited. Nor does it have an official policy on e-waste disposal. When electronic goods dealers and service centres approach the environment ministry, they are told to accumulate the wastes. “But, how much can we go on accumulating,” one of them asked.

Many small-time service centres are suspected to be taking the easy way out – dumping parts along with other rubbish, after removing reusable components.

Environmentalists point out that this could be potentially very dangerous.

Mobile phones, for instance, are made up of many toxic substances. The elements contained in a mobile phone include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc. These poisonous substances can leach from decomposing waste in landfill and seep into groundwater, contaminate the soil and enter the food chain. However, these substances appear in a relatively small amount in a single mobile phone.

Similarly, the printed circuit boards in computers, tape recorders and similar gadgets too could be lethal if not disposed of properly, an environmentalist said.

Heavy metals like lead, chromium, copper and cadmium from these circuit boards, which are toxic, could leach into the soil, if disposed of haphazardly. Potentially, these could come back to humans through water and food, he said.

Prolonged exposure to such contaminated water and food products could cause untold problems, including brain damage, particularly in children. But the good news for Qatar residents is that chances of that happening here are almost nil since hardly any food is produced locally and our ground water usage is minimal.

However, if heavy metals have contaminated the water, it is difficult to remove, the environmentalist cautioned.

A large company which has a huge turn over of computers said it usually sold its old machines as junk to traders. “We don't know what the trader does with them,” a spokesman said. “This precisely is the problem,” said the environmentalist. “We have no control over the small shops and they do what they like. They might not be aware of the hazards too. They should be banned from dealing with such products.”

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