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California's E-Waste Ending Up In Toxic Mountain Of Junk In Arizona

(CBS SF) -- California has the strictest e-waste laws in the nation, but a KPIX5 investigation discovered the strict laws have led to dumping our electronic junk in someone else's back yard, causing serious damage.

A mountain in the Arizona desert that's not on any map was discovered five years ago.  A closer look reveals the mountain is made of glass from old TVs and monitors, full of lead and other toxic heavy metals. Most of it, some 41 million pounds, from California.

We pay an extra fee when we buy a new TV or computer to get the old stuff properly recycled. In most cases it is shipped out of state. The owner of the Yuma property, called Dlubak Glass, received millions of dollars from those California fees to recycle the glass, but never finished the job.

After we alerted California officials back in 2009, they cracked down, ordering recyclers to stop shipping old TVs and monitors to Yuma. Arizona filed suit. But the fine, $120,000 dollars, was a mere slap on the wrist.

More: Electronic Waste Ends Up In Arizona

The company agreed to clean the mess up but a man who was there 2 months ago says he found the mess had not been cleaned up.

Jim Puckett runs the Basel Action Network, the same group that exposed the dumping of toxic e-waste in China and Africa.

He recently went to Yuma to take soil samples around the site, which is still piled high with toxic glass, exposed to desert winds. "We found levels of lead 100 times the background levels.These are well known toxins, they affect the nervous system," said Puckett.

Samples from the leaves of a commercial lemon orchard next door contained ten times the level of lead found in a control sample a quarter of a mile away. "It indicates that even the food source there could be threatened," said Puckett.

We showed the data to Rita Hypnarowski, a senior scientist with California's Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees e-waste disposal. She says if that was in California they would have to cut down the trees and do some testing and possibly dispose of that whole area as hazardous waste.

But California has much stricter laws than Arizona. Hypnarowski says her department is doing the best it can to make sure the glass is recycled properly. "In the past 5-6 years DTSC has spent an enormous amount of resources ensuring that illegal e-waste export doesn't take place," she said.

But just last year we discovered another 9 million pounds of the glass in Yuma.

Most of it once again is from California, abandoned by another company called Dow Management.

"A massive flow is moving out of the state, of waste, which is toxic waste, which California citizens thought was going to be recycled properly," said Puckett.

We contacted Dlubak Glass for response, but they did not get back to us.

The State of Arizona meanwhile says since the samples collected by the Basel Action Network were not certified by a lab in the state, so they are not legally defensible.

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