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</P> Computers are taking over the world-not at home or the office, but at landfill sites across North America. The disposal of computer junk-obsolete processors and monitors full of toxic materials-has reached an alarming rate.

Computer Crash

Computers are taking over the world-not at home or the office, but at landfill sites across North America.

The disposal of computer junk-obsolete processors and monitors full of toxic materials-has reached an alarming rate. It is estimated that home-users and companies in Canada and the United States will get rid of at least 315 million computers by next year.

That means the resulting hazardous waste-lead and heavy metals found in computer products-could wind up in our drinking water and pose environmental damage. A typical computer processor and monitor contain 2.3 to 3.6 kilograms (five to eight pounds) of lead and heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and arsenic. An average computer monitor contains more than 1.5 pounds of lead. (Production wise, it takes 5.7 litres of crude oil to make the plastics in just one personal home or office computer system.)

Most computer equipment contains more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic such as chlorinated and brominated substances, harmful gases, metals, acids, plastics and plastic additives. For more information, visit npr.org/programs/watc/features/2002/apr/computers.

In the US, environmental groups have formed the Computer TakeBack Campaign (grrn.org/e-scrap), a national network of waste-reduction and toxics activists, recycling professionals, local officials, students and design professionals.

- Heather Conn

Are Pesticide Washes All Wet?

Pesticide washes are liquid solutions used to remove pesticides from produce. But researchers at the University of California's Riverside campus recently questioned whether they're all wet. They found that the majority of commercial pesticide washes are better-but not much better-than tap water.

One of the products they tested was Proctor and Gamble's Fit wash, which the company says is 98 per cent more effective than water-a claim that didn't hold up under testing and that the US Federal Trade Commission has done nothing about.

"I agree with [the] that the majority of residue is eliminated with just plain water. Adding a bit of detergent to water, which is what produce wash really is, will aid to rid additional residue. Exactly how much more is debatable," says Mia Rose, president of Mia Rose Products, whose natural Citri-Glow All Purpose Cleaner, found in health food stores, can be used as a non-toxic produce wash.

Lead Levels Higher in Kids with High-Fat Diets

The most common source of lead poisoning in children is from lead-based paints, but a high-fat diet might make things worse, says a recent study. Maryland investigators found that kids who lived in old, urban houses and who ate the most calories from fat had the highest blood lead levels. Based on this finding, they recommended not only that lead paint from houses be removed but also that children limit their fat intake.

However, Udo Erasmus, author of Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill, points out that there is a difference between good and bad fats. Those fats examined in the study, he says, are largely not essential to health, including saturated, monounsaturated and over-processed oils. "These fats have the property of reacting to form calcium soaps, which are then removed from the body. Less calcium means more lead absorption." In contrast, "omega-3 essential fats, those commonly missing in modern diets, improve calcium absorption, thereby reducing lead absorption." "Fats that kill have opposite effects from fats that heal. The findings of this study must be interpreted with these two stories in mind."

The study was published in the December 2002 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

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