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Don't landfill TVs and monitors, study warns

Stephen Musson, an engineering graduate student at the University of Florida, removes a TV picture tube from its housing so he can dismantle it for research   

December 10, 1998
Web posted at: 1:00 PM EST

By Environmental News Network staff

(ENN) -- Cathode ray tubes inside televisions and computer monitors contain enough lead to be considered hazardous waste, according to a University of Florida study designed to encourage states to end the practice of dumping these electronic devices in landfills.

With digital television sets and faster, better computers poised to catch the fancy of many a consumer, older televisions and computer monitors are destined for landfills where they will leach lead into the environment.

"I think the study for the very first time really gives conclusive data that the glass from cathode ray tubes does contain enough lead to be considered hazardous," said Tim Townsend, an assistant professor of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida who did the study.

Cathode ray tubes are currently classified as ordinary household waste in every state except for Massachusetts, which recently banned the tubes from landfills. Excessive lead poses a problem in landfills because it can leach into groundwater or, in the case of lined landfills, it may require increased leachate treatment.

Lead poisoning has been linked with learning disabilities, behavioral problems and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death.

Cathode ray tubes are intentionally infused with lead to shield against harmful X-rays generated in the picture-making process, Townsend said.

Townsend and environmental engineering graduate student Steve Musson collected 36 monitors, crushed the cathode ray tubes, then subjected the contents to the Environmental Protection Agency's standard toxicity test which involves mixing the crushed tubes with an acid solution to simulate leaching conditions which may exist under landfill operations.

With 21 of the crushed tubes, the resulting leachate exceeded the hazardous waste standard of 5 milligrams of lead per liter, with concentrations averaging 18.5 milligrams per liter, according to a draft research report Townsend submitted to the state of Florida.

The highest concentrations were found in the neck of the tube, the part farthest from the screen, with 30 necks resulting in enough lead pollution to be considered hazardous, the report says.

In 1996, there were 300 million television sets in the United States, according to the report and consumers are expected to send as many as 55 million computer monitors to landfills by 2005.

Townsend said his findings provide "a regulatory tool" that will empower state officials to foster recycling efforts or otherwise reduce the number of landfill-bound televisions and monitors.

"Anytime we can minimize the amount of heavy metal such as lead going into the environment in either a landfill or incinerator, that's progress," he said.

Conservation groups such as the Grass Roots Recycling Network are trying to convince industry and state managers to implement computer and television recycling programs, but do not expect any action until legislation banning certain materials from landfills is passed.

Equally, a survey conducted by Raymond Communications Inc., found that 31 of 38 state managers had concerns about electronics waste -- such as computer monitors and televisions -- but only four expected any legislation or regulation in the next three years.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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