Mobile Phones, radiation, signals and a recycling nightmare

A. Cell Phones – A Worldwide Health Hazard

As you probably know, over five billion people worldwide, about 80 percent of the world’s population, now has a cell phone. This fact alone makes this an extremely important issue as it affects the vast majority of people on Earth – not to mention the detrimental impact it may have on insects, such as bees, and other animals. Many Third World countries have actually circumvented the infrastructure of landlines entirely, and have gone straight to using cell phones.

It’s important to realize that while this type of radiation exposure may not pose an immediate short-term threat to your health, as it is not an ionizing type of radiation (like x-rays) that can break chemical bonds and directly damage DNA, cell phones emit a radio frequency field in the microwave band that interacts with your own bio signaling system, which can over time cause a variety of health problems and raise your risk of cancer. Cancers associated with this radiation include brain tumors (gliomas), acoustic neuromas, meningiomas, salivary gland tumors, eye cancers, testicular cancers and leukemia.

B. Negatives of Cell Phones

Cell phone radiation should have been classified as a “Probable Human Carcinogen” based on the existing science,

Allergic reactions: Nickel dermatitis, the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis in women, may be caused by frequent and prolonged use of cell phones, according to a study by Danish researchers.

Sleep issues: Teenagers who use their cell phones excessively are more prone to disrupted sleep, restlessness, stress and fatigue, according to a study presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

Carpal tunnel syndrome: “Repeated, prolonged gripping of anything can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome,” says Jennifer Valle, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Valle recommends an ear piece or headset.

Behavioral problems in children: A study of more than 13,000 children found that pre- or post-natal exposure to cell-phone radiation was associated with behavioral difficulties such as emotional and hyperactivity problems by the time they reached school age. The researchers warned that the association might be due to other factors — perhaps mothers who use the phones frequently pay less attention to their children — but if real, it would be of public health concern, given the widespread use of the technology.

Traffic accidents: Simply listening to your cell phone is a little like driving under the influence of alcohol, according to Carnegie Mellon University scientists who found that “listening alone [to a cell phone] reduces by 37 percent the amount of brain activity associated with driving.” That’s enough to make you weave out of your lane. The Facebook group “I Text Message People While Driving and Haven’t Killed Anyone Yet” says it promotes responsible texting.

False sense of security: College students — especially women — may take more risks when carrying a cell phone, according to a survey of 305 students. In the survey, 40 percent of cell-phone users said they walked somewhere after dark that they normally wouldn’t go.

C. Cell Phones Recycling, an Environmental Nightmare

E-waste is the common term for electronic products at the end of their “useful life.” Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines are electronic products that can be reused, refurbished, or recycled. Let’s focus on our cell phones.

In 2012, 1.6 billion new cell phones were manufactured, and the average lifespan of a new cell phone in the U.S. is 9 – 18 months. Each cell phone contains precious metals, including gallium, selenium, gold, mercury, chromium, niobium, tungsten and molybdenum, which produce a cocktail of toxic chemicals when disposed. Aside from negative environmental impacts of extraction of these metals, they are often not recycled. So where does everything end up? The dump. As your year-old cell phone sits in a pile amongst other cell phones, these metals seep back into the groundwater, causing contamination for wildlife—and us.

Rather than designing durable, longer-lasting electronic devices that are conveniently refurbished or recycled, electronic manufacturers have promoted and appealed to an environmentally destructive part of the human psyche. Our insatiable desire for the “best”, the “newest,” and the “fastest” with built-in obsolescence keeps us perpetually buy-buy-buying more, fueling industry profits at the planet’s expense.

There are several ways to help mitigate this problem.

If it isn’t broken, don’t throw it away!

More often than not, consumers purchase new cell phones because they want an upgrade, not because their cell phone is broken. On Apple’s website, already there is information about the iPhone X, which can’t even be pre-ordered until October 27, 2017…for $999.00. Not to mention the iPhone 8; pre-orders began on September 22, 2017— which costs $799.00. The chain manufacturers and internet service providers that supply cell phones encourage and even incentivize the frequent purchase of new devices. Countless Americans will toss out their cell phones without consideration of the serious environmental impacts in their rush to buy the next newer, shinier thing, even though their current device works just fine.

If it is broken , fix it!

We need to equip our national and local economy with the proper infrastructure to repair and refurbish broken electronics. Planned obsolescence for the sake of profit cannot be sustained indefinitely. When we transition to a society that values repair and durability, not only will we increase market demand for specialized repair skills and businesses, we will also increase access to low-cost technology for communities that need it. Too often, whole electronics are thrown away when they could be fixed with a relatively inexpensive part replacement.

There are several repair services for cell phones on the Redwood Coast: iExperts in Arcata & Eureka, Cellairis in Eureka, and Advanced Cellular Repair in Fortuna. Support these local repair businesses and outlets for refurbishing and recycling electronics.

D. eWaste – Hong Kong and China – a Toxic Recycling Dump

Where do old phones and computers go to die? More and more, aging motherboards and hard disk drives and touch-screens are broken up in illegal waste dumps in Hong Kong, according to a blistering report from the Basel Action Network.

China’s crackdown on corruption has slowed the illegal export of e-waste, much of it from the United States, to southern China, the traditional home of highly polluting electronics recycling sites. That has left more of the toxic material marooned in Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post’s Sarah Karacs did an impressive trio of follow-on stories to the Basel Action Network’s far-reaching report, which was released in May, by poking around Hong Kong’s New Territories.

The Basel Action Network put GPS tracking devices on dozens of used electronic devices, which were given to designated recycling centers, from Dell to Goodwill. The SCMP then visited the sites where the GPS trackers indicated the goods had ended up and found that seven of the 10 sites were storing electronic waste. “There were hives of stripping-down activity by workers, few if any of whom were wearing protective clothing,” Karacs wrote. The SCMP used a drone camera to catch glimpses of the illegal waste dumping grounds.

This is industrial-scale dumping: BAN’s executive director Jim Puckett says that some 50 to 100 containers of e-waste arrive in Hong Kong every day, with 90 percent of it coming from the U.S. That’s the equivalent of 50 to 100 trailer trucks of e-waste – every day.

Sadly, but all too predictably, the dumping sites are concentrated around Tin Shui Wai, a residential enclave known locally as the ‘city of sadness’ for its high rate of suicides and other social problems.

The New Territories are the most lawless part of the former British colony, scene of the third and final of the wars that led to a series of treaties that cemented British control of Hong Kong. The British government never fully asserted control over the area and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region authorities haven’t had any more success. Much of the New Territories still is zoned as agricultural land, but land-use laws are regularly flouted. Abandoned twenty-foot shipping containers are littered across much of the area, which comprises more than half of Hong Kong’s total land mass. In purpose-built towns like Tin Shui Wai, people often are too preoccupied with keeping their lives together to fight against the long-term damage posed by toxic waste.

The SCMP’s Karacs noted that months after Basel Action Network provided the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department with a list of sites, most are still operating. In a mid-June press release the EPD detailed the action that it is taking. Puckett responded by saying that he has been discussing the issue with the department since 2006, but that the EPD has been more concerned with protecting smugglers than in doing its job: Read BAN’s response.

Hong Kong District Councillor Paul Zimmerman has done impressive work on the e-waste problem in the New Territories. He points out that the e-waste is not in fact marooned here — after being roughly broken down the parts are smuggled into China. Zimmerman says that there are indications of a sophisticated cross-border network. Search for “e-waste” on Zimmerman’s Facebook page for videos and more information on this issue. Zimmerman has called on Hong Kong Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam Sing to set up a cross-departmental task force to shut down the illegal New Territories e-waste sites.

Against this grim picture there is some good news: German recycler Alba has just broken ground on a hazardous waste handling facility. This could go some way toward solving the problem. But there needs to be aggressive enforcement. That means getting a handle on the lawless New Territories. The British couldn’t do it. The current weak Hong Kong government doesn’t seem to be having much more success.