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No treatment for electronic waste in Guatemala

The absence of any adequate management of e-waste in Guatemala is posing a serious threat to both the environment and to human health, with demand for electronic equipment having reached the point where there are now more new and old cell phones in the country than there are people.

Computers, refrigerators, microwave ovens and cell phones, together with many other such electronic appliances and devices, are ending up in both garbage dumps and even rivers, with the public being ignorant of the danger posed by the toxic substances that are present in the equipment, experts are warning.

Chrome, lead, mercury, selenium and even arsenic are among the most toxic substances that can be found in electronic waste, which can result in serious damage to health, according to Mayron Espana, who is the director of E-waste de Guatemala, which collects such products for the purpose of recycling.

Brain damage, miscarriages, genetic malformations in fetuses, cancer and reduced male fertility are just some of the consequences to health that can be caused by exposure to the heavy metals, according to numerous studies. “And all of these metals end up in the water sooner or later,” Espana says, because they either seep into the groundwater or because electronic waste is dumped directly into surface water such as rivers. “Water is the big environmental buffer,” he notes. “It is also a finite resource on a global level.”