Young rag-pickers sifting through rubbish are a common image of India’s chronic poverty, but destitute children face new hazards picking apart old computers as part of the growing “e-waste” industry.
Few statistics are known about the informal “e-waste” industry, but a United Nations report launched in February described how mountains of hazardous waste from electronic products are growing exponentially in developing countries.
It said India would have 500 percent more e-waste from old computers in 2020 than in 2007, and 18 times more old mobile phones.
The risks posed to those who handle the cast-offs are clear to T.K. Joshi, head of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi.
He studied 250 people working in the city as recyclers and dismantlers over 12 months to October 2009 and found almost all suffered from breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis.