PRC ecology in trouble, says gov’t official


BEIJING, AP

Potentially toxic computer waste from the United States is threatening the environmental health of mainland China and other Asian countries, a Chinese environmental official said Friday.

Wang Jirong, a deputy director of the Environmental Protection Administration, urged the United States to join other developed countries that have already banned such exports.

“The export of computer waste is bringing great harm to the people of the Asian region,” Wang told reporters at a news conference called to present China’s annual environmental report.

The report warned of major ecological problems, including overgrazing and bad management that are turning China’s grasslands to desert at a rate of 2 million hectares (5 million acres) each year.

Almost one-third of China is affected by acid rain, one out of three cities suffer severe air pollution, half of all rivers are seriously polluted and water levels are falling dramatically in waterways in northern China, the report said.

Coastal pollution is also worsening, with the number of poisonous “red tide” algal outbreaks more than doubling to 71 in 2001, it said.

The report also noted some progress, saying tree planting added 5 million hectares (12 million acres) of forest cover last year and water quality in some badly polluted lakes and rivers had been stabilized.

But Wang said computer waste was a growing problem and urged the United States to join the 1989 Basel Convention, a United Nations treaty banning exports of used computer parts containing toxic chemicals such as lead and mercury.

The United States has signed but not ratified the convention. Beijing ratified the treaty in 1991.

Wang said dealers evade China’s ban on importing computer waste through smuggling or by falsifying invoices. Inspectors were being ordered to crack down on such illegal imports, she said.

Mainland China is itself a growing producer of what is known as e-waste, and Wang said her administration is drafting rules for the safe disposal of computer castoffs.

The Associated Press and environmental groups have reported on health threats posed by crude processing of computer waste in Guiyu, near Hong Kong in the southeast province of Guangdong.

In the region’s villages, poor farmers melt down wiring and circuit boards over open fires or by dousing them with acid to extract precious metals like gold and platinum. Toxic chemicals are also released by stripping apart printers and lead-laden computer screens.

The processing releases carcinogenic fumes and pollutes rivers and ground water with heavy metals. Residents have complained of respiratory problems and cancer.

Wang said the trade also goes on in another Guangdong town, Nanhai, and in Taizhou further north along the coast in Zhejiang province.