Monday, January 28, 2013

Primitive e-waste recycling could cause major health problems in China

E-waste recycling is becoming a major health concern in developing countries such as China and India. Different electronic waste such as old cell phones and computers are frequently being collected in dumps in developing countries in order to recover precious metals such as silver, palladium and copper.

The main problem is that the incineration process is in most cases very primitive, releasing toxic fumes such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have adverse impact on human health.

According to researchers at the Oregon State University the residents that live near an e-waste recycling site in China face the increased risk of lung cancer. In their study researchers collected air samples from two rooftops in two areas in China- one from a rural village in the southern province of Guangdong less than a mile from an active e-waste burning site and not surrounded by any industry and other Guangzhou, a city heavily polluted by industry, vehicles and power plants but not e-waste.

The end results of this study were somewhat surprising as researchers concluded that those living in the e-waste village are 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer from inhalation than those that lived in heavily polluted city without the e-waste burning site.

However, these results do not come as surprising when you consider that people are recycling e-waste in their yards and homes with primitive techniques that include using utensils and pots to melt down circuit boards and recover metals. It is the process of incineration itself that is causing the exposure through breathing, skin and food.

The researchers estimated that of each million people in the e-waste area, 15 to 1,200 would develop lung cancer on account of toxic fumes (most notably PAHs) over their lifetimes, while the ratio is slightly lower in the city at 9 to 737 per million. Another interesting conclusion was also the fact that the level of airborne carcinogenic PAHs exceeded China's air quality standards 98 percent of the time in the e-waste area and 93 percent of the time in the city.

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