Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste

60 Minutes follows America's toxic electronic waste as it is illegally shipped to become China's dirty secret

The recyclers are peasant farmers who couldn't make a living on the land. Destitute, they've come by the thousands to get $8 a day. Greenpeace introduced us to some of them. They were afraid and didn't want to be seen, but theirs are the hands that are breaking down America's computers.

"The air I breathe in every day is so pungent I can definitely feel it in my windpipe and affecting my lungs. It makes me cough all the time," one worker told Pelley, with the help of a translator.

"If you're worried about your lungs and you're burning your hands, do you ever think about giving this up?" Pelley asked.

"Yes, I have thought of it," the worker said.

Asked why he doesn't give it up, the worker told him, "Because the money's good."

"You know, it struck me, talking to those workers the other day, that they were destitute and they're happy to have this work," Pelley told Puckett.

"Well, desperate people will do desperate things," Puckett replied. "But we should never put them in that situation. You know, it's a hell of a choice between poverty and poison. We should never make people make that choice."

Pelley, Puckett, and the 60 Minutes team passed by a riverbed that had been blackened by the ash of burned e-waste.

"Oh, man, this is - it's unbelievably acrid and choking," Pelley said, coughing.

"This is an ash river. This is detritus from burning all this material and this is what the kids get to play in," Puckett explained.

After a few minutes in the real recycling area, we were jumped.

Several men struggled for our cameras. The mayor hadn't wanted us to see this place, and neither did the businessmen who were profiting from it. They got a soil sample that we'd taken for testing, but we managed to wrestle the cameras back.

What were they afraid of?

"They're afraid of being found out," Puckett said. "This is smuggling. This is illegal. A lot of people are turning a blind eye here. And if somebody makes enough noise, they're afraid this is all gonna dry up."