E-waste threat from lead overstated

2 min read
In response to the October 4 Perspectives column by Charles Cooper, "Tech's toxic sellout":

You are certainly right about the need for recycling e-waste. Recycling e-waste makes environmental sense for preservation of resources. But you are completely off base in your assertions about the danger of "lead, cadmium and mercury" in our water.

Our environment already has residual lead from 50 years of tetraethyl lead in fuel, lead-acid batteries and CRTs (cathode-ray tubes). Yet lead poisoning is almost nonexistent, according to all the statistics. U.S. blood levels of lead have been declining drastically ever since leaded fuel was banned (in the U.S.), starting in 1976. (Do you know anyone with elevated lead in their blood? Do you know anyone who died or was sickened by lead poisoning?)

I believe that some so-called environmentalists think that they can make a case for reaching out irresponsibly to ban everything that they perceive as hazardous. But true environmentalists consider the big picture. They ask: 1) What are the total impacts on the Earth's ecosystems?; 2) What are the alternative materials and their impacts, including toxicity?; 3) What are the impacts on economics and reliability of electronic equipment?

Demonizing lead in all applications is an example of unreason. That is what the people of Aspen, Colo. discovered two decades ago.

By the way, as you may know, CRTs with their three or so pounds of lead are banned from most landfills. I did my bit in agitating for this ban in the Palo Alto, Calif. dump. Printed circuit boards have ounces. In the dump, that lead is bound up in insoluble sulfates, oxides and chlorides. One really has to work hard to make them leach--and even if they do leach a trace, there is no real danger to water, to life, to people. (I'd like to see the proof to the contrary.)

Harvey Miller
Palo Alto, Calif.