Used pachinko machines harming health in China
Environment policy officials from Japan and Hong Kong have started consultations on the large volume of exports to Hong Kong of used pachinko machines, which contain electronic components that pose a serious health hazard when the circuit boards are disassembled in China.
|Workers separate components from discarded pachinko machines exported from Japan. KYODO PHOTO|
Around 3 million pachinko machines are discarded each year in Japan, according to Nippon Yugikikogyo Kumiai (Nikkoso), an association of pachinko manufacturers.
Of these, more than 1 million are believed to end up in Hong Kong, with the remainder passed on to domestic recycling companies, officials at the Environment Ministry said.
Most of the old pachinko machines that are exported are listed as recyclable "used products" and could violate an international law regulating transborder movements of hazardous waste, the officials said.
These machines have had the liquid crystal removed from them and as a result cannot be refurbished for future use.
Hong Kong companies disassemble the machines into groups of components such as metals, plastic and circuit boards, which are sold in resource-hungry mainland China, the officials said.
Hazardous substances have reportedly been released into the air in Guangdong Province when electronic components are removed from circuit boards and have caused lead poisoning and other serious health problems among nearby residents, the officials said.
According to a study by a university in the province, 80 percent of children aged 1 to 6 living in the area where many recycling businesses are concentrated suffer from lead intoxication, which can cause nerve damage, and workers who disassemble electronic components have respiratory and skin diseases.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal provides for procedures for exporting lead and other hazardous waste. It calls on the exporting country to confirm in advance whether the recipient country is capable of disposing of the waste without contaminating the environment.
"Out-of-service pachinko machines are exported increasingly under the guise of used goods, where the confirmation step is not required," an official at the Environment Ministry said.
The ministry may step up preliminary screening by requiring pachinko machine exporters to submit documents and by including the machines in guidelines being drawn up in concert with the Hong Kong government on classification of used goods and waste, according to officials.
Illegal dumping of pachinko machines has become a social problem in Japan. Three years ago, makers began collecting and recycling used machines for free. However, they have recycled only about half of all used machines because brokers try to snap them up at 500 yen each for export, industry sources said.