SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- Consumers who buy a new TV or computer pay an extra fee to dispose of old electronics. But the owner of a company that disposes of electronic waste has made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, and left behind quite a mess.
Jim Puckett, the founder of the Basel Action Network, has been watching the electronics industry for years. His group BAN exposed the mass dumping of electronic waste in China. Never did he imagine it could happen so close to home.
"Arizona has become a dumping ground. We have seen at least three warehouses chock full of this material and the owners have abandoned ship," Puckett said.
In the desert town of Yuma, glass from old TVs and monitors, called CRT or Cathode Ray Tube glass, have been abandoned in huge warehouses. "It's got lead in the glass, it's got toxic phosphors, this very thin powder all over this material, there is cadmium and lead compounds in that fine dust," he said.
Most of the estimated 9 million pounds of e-waste comes from California. "Who is caught holding the bag? It's the people of California that paid that fee that have lost all that money," he said.
We all pay to make sure that old electronics are recycled safely. It's an extra fee that California tacks on when we buy a new TV or computer. The money goes to the state's recycling agency, called CalRecycle, which then pays recyclers to properly dispose of it. The recyclers in turn pay third parties to safely process the most toxic part of all that e-waste: the leaded CRT glass.
In this case, KPIX 5 has learned the company that promised to process the TVs and monitors is called Dow Management. Its owner is now missing, along with more than half a million dollars in public funds.
"We recognize that this is an unfortunate situation," said Jeff Hunts with CalRecycle.
"California's e-waste recycling program pays California businesses to do the right thing, and if they don't do the right thing, if they are caught, they will either not be paid or we will come after them and get our money back," Hunts said.
The state is now ordering eight California recyclers who sent their glass to Dow Management to clear out the warehouses in Yuma and truck it to a new processor, at their own expense.
One of the recyclers is KYO Computer out of Newark. Farrah Philip of KYO Computer said her company followed all the rules, which require recyclers to make sure processors they contract with are legit. "I went to Yuma too, to see how they process the glass. I see the people still working over there," she said.
Philip said it is hard to find anyone who will take CRT glass. A few loads of glass have been moved out, but she doesn't have money to move the rest.
So the glass is gathering dust, in the Arizona desert. "This is rife in this industry right now. It's an industry out of control," Puckett said.
Arizona is also investigating. But e-waste regulations there are much less strict than in California, which is most likely why so much of this toxic glass is getting sent there.
The problem is that until recently CRT glass was recycled into making more of the same kind of TVs which are now obsolete. And no one has figured out what else to make out of it.
Just in the last month we've heard of similar dumping cases in several other states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
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