Occupational Health News Roundup

Discarded computers, mobile phones, and TVs from consumers in developed countries often wind up in developing world, where workers – some of them children – disassemble the electronic waste to extract metal and other valuable materials. Usually working without any kind of protective equipment, they’re exposed to lead, mercury, cadmium, flame retardants, and other toxic substances. Areas like Guiyu, China (one of the most infamous dumping sites for e-waste) become horribly polluted and contaminated.

A growing awareness of e-waste problems has spurred efforts to make electronics recycling safer. The New York Times’ Erica Gies reports on some of the accomplishments so far:

In February, the electronic products manufacturer Hewlett-Packard announced preliminary findings of a study on responsible electronic waste processing in African countries, based in part on a pilot facility it helped build in Cape Town.

Inspired by the work in India of Empa, the Swiss federal laboratory for materials testing and research, which is a partner of H.P. in the Cape Town project, the study looked at e-waste management in South Africa, Morocco and Kenya, including local legislation, awareness and behavior, infrastructure needs, and the amount of waste generated. Another partner in the project is the Global Digital Solidarity Fund, a Swiss philanthropy that works to bridge the digital divide.

In other news:

Army Times: US Representatives Tim Bishop and Carol Shea-Porter have introduced legislation that would prohibit the military from operating burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than six months and require the Department of Defense to identify service members who may have been exposed to toxic substances from these facilities.

New York Times: US Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Ted Kennedy are introducing the Healthy Families Act, which would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to seven days per year.

Wall Street Journal: Many United Nations workers involved in sexual-harassment and sex-discrimination complaints say the process for addressing them is “arbitrary, unfair, and mired in bureaucracy.”

Slate: The death of UCLA lab technician Sheri Sangji after suffering severe burns from a laboratory chemical spill draws attention to the problem of safety violations at academic research labs.

Guardian (UK): High numbers of workers in media, IT, and finance report sometimes feeling pressure from colleagues to drink. In England, media workers on average drink about twice as much alcohol as the recommended limit.