Talking Computer Trash

A review of High-Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics and Human Health by Kellyn Betts
“PBDEs are everywhere," said reporter Kellyn Betts at a recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference panel. "There are high levels in breast milk, blood and fat. Dust is the main route of exposure, and they’re coming out of products like computers and traveling around with dust particles." What are PBDEs? Pick up High-Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics and Human Health by Elizabeth Grossman (Island Press, $25.95) and you"ll learn that they’re pentabromodiphenyl ether, a flame retardant used in the plastic housing of computers, FAX machines, TVs, printers and circuit boards. Grossman’s book explores "the underside of high-tech," from manufacturing plant to end-of-life disposal. You"ll travel to Taizhou, China, where much of the digital detritus from our computerized society ends up. Instead of eco-correct dismantling, you"ll see workers exposed to myriad toxins as they bang computers apart with primitive hammers. This is the dark side of Being Digital, the flip side of Wired magazine’s bright outlook, and Grossman does an excellent job of exploring it. —Jim Motavalli