E-Waste Recycling in Developing Countries: Concerns of Developmental Toxicity

Friday, February 15, 2013
Room 306 (Hynes Convention Center)
Aimin Chen , University of Cincinnati Department of Environmental Health, Cincinnati, OH
Background:Electronic waste (E-waste) has been processed in developing countries under conditions prone to environmental contamination and community exposure. It is not clear whether environmental exposure to e-waste recycling activities has significant impact on vulnerable population living in those communities.

Methods: We reviewed current evidence regarding the recycling conditions in communities of developing countries, and identified major environmental toxicants relevant to community exposure. We summarized the exposure levels to lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the e-waste recycling communities compared with unexposed communities. We examined the current literature about developmental toxicity of these environmental toxicants, and the relevance to the exposure levels originated from unregulated e-waste recycling.

Results: The recycling of e-waste in developing countries, often performed without adequate protection to environment and workers, yields significantly higher exposure to Pb, Cd, Cr, PBDEs, PAHs in the environment (air, dust, water) and humans (community residents). Pregnant women and young children are at a high risk of possible adverse health effects because of the heightened vulnerability in fetal and early child development. Neurodevelopmental toxicity is a significant concern based on human epidemiologic findings and animal literature. Prevention of unnecessary exposure in the community should be considered as top priority in locations with long history of e-waste recycling.

Conclusions: The fate of primitive e-waste recycling in developing countries should be determined based on environmental impact and human health effects. There is a significant need to reduce community exposure to potential toxicants in the recycling process of waste electronic devices.