Add environmental woes to digital TV conversion problems

Delaying the digital television conversion may help confused, procrastinating viewers — and the stations themselves — but what’s to become of all those old TVs, loaded with toxic electronic components, that are being traded in for splashier DTV screens?

Our buddies at the Iowa Independent report today that yet to be confirmed Agriculture Secretary-nominee Sen. Tom Harkin has introduced a bill to delay the Feb. 12 digital conversion deadline by three months. Complaints by perplexed consumers and a dearth of converter-box coupons to ease the financial burden of going digital from analog sparked the congressional action.

Delaying the switch is a public safety matter, Harkin contends, as in the event of emergency or natural disaster, television serves a vital role in disseminating information. A delay would also allow for those currently waiting for converter box coupons to receive them before the switch.

But whatever the final timeline determined to make the switch, local landfill managers are grappling with a spike in televisions getting dumped as trash by residents. Stephen Gillette, director of the Larimer County Solid Waste Department, said that 12-15 sets are now being tossed out each day in the dump just south of Fort Collins — up from just a couple per day before the digital push caught fire over the last months.

The average cathode ray tube in a single television set contains from one to 12 pounds of lead, a toxic heavy metal known to cause irreversible neurological damage, reproductive and cardiovascular ailments and birth defects.

While Gillette says that that TVs represent a small volume compared to other types of junk, he’s grateful the larger problem of electronic waste has caught the attention of state Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.

Fischer confirmed that he is drafting an e-scrap bill to be introduced later this legislative session. Specifically, the proposed state law would require manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling computers, televisions and other consumer electronics as a condition for doing business in the state. One tactic may be a landfill bill, but Fischer said he’s still in the process of sorting out the law’s mechanics with recycling advocates.

Stay tuned.