|HONG KONG - Hong Kong has become a dumping ground for electronic waste from the United States, Europe and Japan and soil tests have uncovered excessive lead levels in the soil, according to Greenpeace.|
Nearly 100 large, open fields in the city's New Territories are covered in a sea of old computers, televisions, printers and printed circuit boards.
The semi-rural New Territories, near the border with mainland China, has become a receiving and sorting station for the waste before disassembled parts are sent across the border for recycling.
"Up till 2003, we had only old local computers in small shops in Hong Kong, but what's happened now is the waste has moved into large rural areas, and these are imports from outside -- the US, Europe and Japan," said Edward Chan of Greenpeace in Hong Kong.
The spillover into Hong Kong came after Beijing banned the import of electronic waste in 2000.
Traders quickly worked around that by sending containers of waste into Hong Kong, where computers and other electronic goods are disassembled before being trucked into other parts of southern China.
"The traders just label these containers as second-hand goods and there is nothing the Hong Kong authorities can do. It has no laws against imports of electronic waste," Chan said.
"Workers disassemble them into smaller parts here and then sell them into China where there are traders who buy different parts for recycling ... If we don't stop this, we will further dirty this place, and become an entrepot for electronic waste."
Chan said there were now at least 91 fields in the New Territories holding electronic waste. Some were as large as a standard football pitch and these can store over 100 tonnes of such waste at any one time. Smaller fields hold half as much.
"We have 2,000 tonnes of rubbish at any one time," he said.
Tests on soil samples collected at these blackspots were found to contain up to 10 times as much lead than uncontaminated soil, which typically have lead levels of below 10-30mg/kg.
Lead is harmful to the human nervous system, blood circulation and organs.
The Hong Kong government was not immediately available for comment.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE