U.S. Electronic Waste Gets Sent to Africa

"This is a pure cost situation," said Casey Harrell of Greenpeace's San Francisco office. "There are no nefarious masterminds here that are trying to ruin the lives of people overseas. The reality is you can send these container ships for pennies."

A federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in August 2008 found that "potentially harmful used electronics ... [are] virtually unrestricted" to foreign countries.

The United States does ban the export of television and computer screens containing Cathode Ray Tubes, or CRTs, which contain lead. But the GAO report, titled EPA Needs to Better Control Harmful Exports through Stronger Enforcement and More Comprehensive Legislation," concluded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was lax even in monitoring the export of CRTs.

"EPA has done little to determine the extent of non-compliance with the rule and even less to deter such non-compliance," the report stated.

"It's a very damning report," Harrell said. "Basically, it said that the Environmental Protection Agency and the federal government was doing little to nothing on the regulation of e-waste."

At the time of the report, the EPA was under the Bush administration.

'Tsunami' of E-Waste Anticipated

In an e-mail reply to questions from ABC News, the EPA -- now overseen byt the Obama administration -- said: "Over the last year, EPA has stepped up enforcement of the CRT rule as it regards export. Last year, EPA began more than 20 investigations into possible violations of the CRT export requirements."

John Stephenson, GAO director for Natural Resources and Environment -- and a harsh critic of the EPA last year -- concurred.

"It appears that they are more aggressively investigating and enforcing the CRT rule," Stephenson said. "I know there has been enforcement activity against recyclers, and that's more than they were doing before."

When asked if the EPA is doing a better job now than the previous EPA, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardou Materials, said, "No."

In any case, American e-waste containing CRTs is a fraction of the e-waste that is allowed to be exported.

The GAO report and Mike Anane in Ghana both warn of a coming wave of e-waste -- Anane calls it a "tsunami" -- in the form of old televisions as a consequence of the change in the U.S. from analog to digital television.

"The prospect looms that many more used electronic devices will be discarded in the near future," the GAO said.

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