According to a report in Scientific American, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows that most of the 1.9 million tons (1.7 million metric tons) of discarded cell phones, computers and televisions, among other electronic goods, went into landfills overseas, because those are the agency's own figures.
The EPA also knows that this so-called e-waste contains cadmium, mercury and other toxic substances, and it is responsible for making sure that lead-laden monitors and television sets with cathode-ray tubes (CRT) are disposed of properly and the parts recycled.
But, congressional investigators charge that the EPA has failed to even attempt to clean up the mess-or keep it in check.
The agency has "no plans and no timetable for developing the basic components of an enforcement strategy," concludes a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress's investigative arm.
GAO official John Stephenson testified at a House hearing that his investigators had posed as would-be buyers of CRT waste in Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam and found at least 43 recyclers willing to export the toxic e-waste from the U.S. in direct violation of EPA regulations.
In addition, unlike the European Union (E.U.), the EPA has no regulations concerning the disposal of other types of used electronic devices, despite their dangers.
"This is a failure to enforce even the weak regulations they have," said Democratic Representative Gene Green of Houston, who introduced a House resolution calling for a ban on the export of e-waste.
"EPA is sometimes not as interested in doing what statutorily they should be," he added.
According to the report, the EPA told GAO officials that it prefers "nonregulatory, voluntary approaches" to the growing e-waste problem.
"EPA currently has 10 ongoing investigations and the regional offices plan to conduct inspections at electronic waste collection and recycling facilities this year," said assistant administrators Granta Nakayama and Susan Parker Bodine in response.
"Only 5 percent of imports are inspected," said Mark Small, vice president for corporate environment, safety and health at Sony Corporation of America. "One can only imagine how many exports are inspected," he added.
According to Representative Mike Thompson, "We can't just ship it overseas any longer and pretend it doesn't exist."
"It should be regulated to prevent harm to human health and the environment overseas-and right here in this country," he added.