Lead poisoning worldwide set to rise

child electronics

Widespread lead poisoning will result from the planned distribution of a billion computers to developing countries by technology companies and charities, according to a new study.

“The lead from batteries needed to power these computers will result in environmental contamination and harmful exposures unless some commonsense safeguards are taken,” said Perry Gottesfeld, co-author of the study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

“Our research concludes that emissions from the lead batteries needed to power these computers will exceed 1,250,000 tons in the next decade,” added Mr Gottesfeld, who is the executive director of Occupational Knowledge International (OK International) of San Francisco.

“Ironically these efforts to narrow the ‘digital divide’ will increase lead emissions and offset any gains in educational achievement unless efforts are taken to reduce emissions from battery manufacturing and recycling,” he said.

The study, ‘Plans to distribute the next billion computers by 2015 creates pollution risk,’ says India alone is expected to gain 150 million new PC users by 2015 and most will utilise lead batteries for primary or backup power, or both.

The increased production of computers and other electronic equipment has been credited with the recent global rise in lead production, which increased by 18 per cent between 2003 and 2007. Over half of refined lead used worldwide is already recycled, creating a potentially enormous occupational disease risk in a notoriously hazardous industry.

  • Christopher R Cherry and Perry Gottesfeld. Plans to distribute the next billion computers by 2015 creates pollution risk, Journal of Cleaner Production, volume 17, pages 1620–1628, December 2009 [pdf].
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