'60 Minutes': The Wasteland Video
'60 Minutes': The Wasteland Video Transcript
>> Tonight we're going to take you to one of the most toxic places on earth, a place that government officials and gangsters don't want you to see. It's a town in Chine where you can't breath the air or drink the water, a town where the blood of the children is laced with lead. It's worth risking a visit because much of this poison is coming out of the homes, schools, and offices of America; this is a story about recycling, about how your best intentions to be Green can be channeled into an underground sewer that flows from the United States and into the wasteland. That wasteland is piled with the burning remains of some of the most expensive sophisticated stuff that consumers crave. ^M00:00:45 [ Speaking foreign language ] ^M00:00:52
>> And we discovered that the gangs who run this place wanted to keep it a secret.
>> [speaking foreign language]
>> He said if we don't leave we may get beaten up.
>> What are they hiding? The answer lies in the first law of the digital age, newer is better. In with the next thing and out with the old TV, phone, or computer, all of this becomes obsolete electronic garbage called eWaste. Ya know, my computer seems like such a smooth clean machine, what's inside it?
>> Allen: Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides, all of these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers.
>> Allen Hershkowitz is a Senior Scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel.
>> Allen: The problem with eWaste is that it is the fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide.
>> What do you mean fastest growing?
>> Allen: Well, we throw out about 130,000 computers everyday in the United States.
>> In the United States alone.
>> Allen: Correct, and we throw out over 100,000,000 cell phones every year.
>> And here's what that looks like, at a recycling event in Denver we found cars bumper to bumper for blocks in a line that lasted for hours. Most folks in line were hoping to do the right thing expecting that their waste would be recycled in state of the art facilities that exist here in America, but really there's no way for them to know where all of this is going. The recycling industry is exploding and as it turns out some so called recyclers are shipping the waste overseas where it's broken down for the precious metals inside. Executive recycling of Englewood, Colorado, which ran this event, promised the public on its website, your eWaste is recycled properly right here in the U.S. not simply dumped on somebody else. That policy helped Brandon Richter [assumed spelling], the CEO of Executive win a contract with the city of Denver and expand operations into three Western states. Tell me what the problem with sending this stuff overseas is.
>> Well, ya know, they've got low-income labor over there so obviously they don't have all of the right materials, the safety equipment to handle some of this material.
>> Executive does recycling in-house but we were curious about shipping containers that were leaving its Colorado yard. We found this one filled with monitors, they're especially hazardous because each picture tube called a Cathode Ray Tube or CRT contains several pounds of lead, it's against U.S. law to ship them overseas without special permission. We took down the container's number and we followed it to Tacoma, Washington where it was loaded on a ship. When the container left Tacoma we followed it for 7,459 miles to this place, Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, it turns out the container that started in Denver was just one of thousands of containers on an underground often illegal smuggling route taking America's electronic trash to the Far East. Our guide to that route was Jim Puckett [assumed spelling], Founder of the Basel Action Network, a watchdog group named for the treaty that's supposed to stop rich countries from dumping toxic waste on poor ones. Puckett runs a program to certify ethical recyclers and he showed us what's piling up in Hong Kong. ^M00:04:36
>> Jim: As you can see it's literally acres of computer monitors.
>> Is it legal to import of these computer monitors into Hong Kong?
>> Jim: No way, this is absolutely illegal both from the standpoint of Hong Kong law but also [inaudible] U.S. law and Chinese law, but it's happening. ^M00:04:57
>> We followed the trail to a place Puckett discovered in Southern China, a sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste, the town of Guan Yu but we weren't there very long before we were picked up by the cops and taken to City Hall. We told the Mayor we wanted to see recycling. Mayor's gonna ride up front, after you, very nice car, so he personally drove us to a shop. Let me explain what's happening here, we were brought into the Mayor's office and the Mayor told us that we were essentially not welcome here but he would show us one place where computers were being dismantled and this is that place, a pretty tidy shop. The Mayor told us that we would be welcome to see the rest of the town but the town wouldn't be prepared for our visit for another year, so we were allowed to shoot at that location for about 5 minutes and we're back in the Mayor's car headed back to City Hall where I suspect we'll be given another cup of tea and sent on our way out of town with a police escort, no doubt. ^M00:06:08 And we were, but the next day in a different car on a different road we got in.
>> This is really the dirty little secret of the electronic age.
>> Here's a CRT stand.
>> Oh yeah, --
>> So they've been dismantling the CRT's --
>> as well, a little bit of everything in here and this is the place where they're clearly doing the burning.
>> Green Peace has been filming around Guan Yu and caught the recycling work. Women were heating circuit boards over a coal fire pulling out chips and pouring off the lead solder. Men were using what is literally a mid-evil acid recipe to extract gold. Pollution has ruined the town, drinking water is trucked in, scientist's have studied the area and discovered that Guan Yu has the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. They found that pregnancies are 6 times more likely to end in miscarriage and that 7 out of 10 kids have too much lead in their blood.
>> Open, uncontrolled burning of plastics, chlorinated and brominated plastics is known worldwide to cause the emission of polychlorinated and polybrominated dioxins; these are among the most toxic compounds known on earth. We have a situation where we have 21st century toxics being managed in a 17th century environment.
>> The recyclers are peasant farmers who couldn't make a living on the land, destitute they have come by the thousands to get at $8.00 a day. Green Peace introduced us to some of them, they were afraid and didn't want to be seen, but these are the hands that are breaking down America's computers. ^M00:07:58 [ Speaking foreign language ] ^M00:08:03
>> The air I breathe in everyday is so pungent I can definitely feel it in my windpipe and affecting my lungs, it makes me cough all the time.
>> If you're worried about your lungs and you're burning your hands, do you ever think about giving this up?
>> Yes, I've thought of that.
>> And, why don't you?
>> [speaking foreign language] Because the money's good.
>> It struck me, talking to those workers the other day, that they were destitute and they're happy to have this work.
>> Well, desperate people will do desperate things but we should never put them in that situation. Ya know, it's a hell of a choice between poverty and poison, we should never make people make that choice.
>> Oh my goodness, look at the ash river here, oh my goodness.
>> It's unbelievably acrid and [coughing] choking. What are we seeing here?
>> This is an ash river, this is the [inaudible] from burning all this material and this is what the kids get to play in.
>> After a few minutes in the real recycling area we were jumped. ^M00:09:18 [ Background noise ] ^M00:09:22
>> 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. ^M00:09:30 [ Background noise ] ^M00:09:41
>> They got a soil sample that we had taken for testing but we managed to wrestle the cameras back. ^M00:09:48 [ Background noise ] ^M00:09:53
>> But the question is what are they afraid of?
>> There afraid of being found out, 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.
>> Back in Denver there was no threat of it drying up, in fact, it was a flood and Brandon Richter, CEO of Executive Recycling was still warning of the dangers of shipping waste to China.
>> Brandon: Ya know, I just heard, actually, a child actually died over there from breaking this material down, just getting all these toxins.
>> Then we told him we tracked his container to Hong Kong. This is a photograph from your yard, the Executive Recycling yard, we followed this container to Hong Kong.
>> Brandon: Okay
>> And I wonder why that would be. The Hong Kong customs people opened the container --
>> Brandon: Okay
>> and found it full of CRT screens, which as you probably know is illegal to --
>> Brandon: Yeah, absolutely.
>> export to Hong Kong.
>> Brandon: I don't know if that container was filled with glass, I doubt it was, we don't fill glass, CRT glass in these containers.
>> This container was in your yard filled with CRT screens and exported to Hong Kong, which probably wouldn't be legal.
>> Brandon: No, absolutely not.
>> Can you explain that?
>> Brandon: Yeah, it's not -- it was not filled in our facility.
>> But that's where we filmed it and it turns out we weren't the only ones asking questions, Hong Kong Customs intercepted the container and sent it back to Executive Recycling, Englewood, Colorado. The contents were listed as waste Cathode Ray Tubes, U.S. Customs x-rayed the container and found the same thing. We showed Richter the evidence and later his lawyer told us that the CRT's were exported under Executive Recycling's name but without the company's permission.
>> I know this is your job but unfortunately you, ya know, when you attack small business owners like this and you don't have all your facts straight, it's unfortunate, ya know --
>> But here's one more fact, the Federal Government Accountability Office set up a sting in which U.S. investigators posed as foreign importers. Executive Recycling offered to sell 1,500 CRT computer monitors and 1,200 CRT televisions to the GAO's fictitious broker in Hong Kong. But Executive Recycling was not alone, the GAO report found that another 42 American companies were willing to do the same. ^M00:12:31 [ Sound effect ] ^M00:12:36 [ Silence ]
When 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley and his crew went to China to record the black-market dismantling of electronic waste, or "e-waste," the experience was almost as hazardous for the "60 Minutes" team as working with the toxic material is for poor Chinese workers. Watch the full segment this Sunday, November 9, on '60 minutes.'
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