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ASU researchers looking for grant to study e-waste


What do you do with that old computer when it’s outdated and no longer needed?

A group of ASU researchers and graduate students are trying to find a better answer to that question.

The team is seeking a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study where computers end up after Americans toss them out.

Some e-waste covers acres of landfills. But that’s probably not the safest or most prudent thing to do with old computers.

They’re full of nasty, toxic metals and chemicals that can pollute groundwater systems below landfills.

Still, other old computers get shipped to developing countries, where scavengers dismantle them in unsafe ways.

Eric Williams, an ASU engineering and sustainability professor, said there is concern about the danger to workers abroad who are exposed to toxic computer parts while collecting the valuable materials inside.

Unknown tons of used electronics are ending up in places such as China, India and Nigeria through networks of brokers and smugglers, according to watchdog groups.

Workers will smash a computer monitor to recover the copper coils inside, while exposing themselves to lead dust, according to an investigation by the advocacy group Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

Workers will then cook circuit boards over open flames to reach the semiconductor chip, while releasing toxic fumes.

The ASU team said it hopes its research will help find a way to keep used electronics away from landfills and scavengers to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to technology.

“Why not reuse the computers,” asked doctoral candidate Ramzy Kahhat.

Later this summer, the ASU team will find out if their National Science Foundation grant request is approved.

Last month, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality rejected their request for money to study a statewide e-waste recycling system.

Information from: The Arizona Republic,

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