Springer Nature is making Coronavirus research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Pilot study on the internal exposure to heavy metals of informal-level electronic waste workers in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana

  • 882 Accesses

  • 12 Citations

Abstract

Informal-level electronic waste (e-waste)-processing activities are performed at hotspots in developing countries such as India, China, and Ghana. These activities increase the ambient burden of heavy metals and contribute to the toxic exposure of the general population. However, few data exist on the internal exposure of populations involved in these informal activities and in close contact with fumes from the direct combustion of electronic waste products in these countries. Therefore, in a cross-sectional study design, we analyzed blood, urine, and hair samples from 75 e-waste workers residing in and/or working on a large e-waste recycling site in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana, and compared the results against those of 40 individuals living in a suburb of Accra without direct exposure to e-waste recycling activities. A comparative analysis using the Mann-Whitney U test showed significantly higher median concentrations of blood lead (88.5 vs. 41.0 μg/l, p < 0.001), cadmium (0.12 vs. 0.10 μg/gcrea, p = 0.023), chromium (0.34 vs. 0.23 μg/gcrea, p < 0.001), and nickel (3.18 vs. 2.03 μg/gcrea, p < 0.001) in the urine of e-waste workers than those of controls. There was no difference in blood cadmium concentrations between the groups (0.51 vs. 0.57 μg/l, p = 0.215) or in urine mercury levels (0.18 vs. 0.18 μg/gcrea, p = 0.820). Hair mercury levels were higher in the controls than in the e-waste workers (0.43 vs. 0.72, p < 0.001). We compared our data with those from European populations, specifically using the German reference values, and found that the internal concentrations of the participants exceeded the German reference values in 59.3 vs. 3.1% (e-waste workers vs. controls) for blood lead, 56.9 vs. 52.5% for urine nickel, 22.2 vs. 20.0% for urine chromium, and 17.8 vs. 62.2% for hair mercury. In particular, the high blood lead levels of up to several hundred micrograms per liter are a cause for concern because many of the workers in Agbogbloshie are children or adolescents who are in developmental stages and are at a particular risk for negative health effects. We conclude that exposure to some of the heavy metals tended to be a citywide phenomenon, but populations directly exposed to e-waste recycling are experiencing higher exposure levels and have concentration levels much higher than those of the general population and much higher than those found in European populations. To achieve environmental sustainability and to minimize the impact of e-waste-processing activities in developing countries, national authorities must formalize the rapidly growing informal-level e-waste management sector in these countries by deploying cleaner and easy-to-operate e-waste processing technologies.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Aboh IJK, Henriksson D, Laursen J, Lundin M, Ofosu FG, Pind N, Lindgren ES, Wahnstrom T (2009) Identification of aerosol particle sources in semi-rural area of Kwabenya, near Accra, Ghana, by EDXRF techniques. X-Ray Spectrom 38:348–353

  2. Acheampong MA, Paksirajan K, Lens PNL (2013) Assessment of the effluent quality from a gold mining industry in Ghana. Environ Sci Pollut R 20:3799–3811

  3. Affum HA, Oduro-Afriyie K, Nartey VK, Adomako D, Nyarko BJB (2008) Biomonitoring of airborne heavy metals along a major road in Accra, Ghana. Environ Monit Assess 137:15–24

  4. Akormedi M, Asampong E, Fobil JN (2013) Working conditions and environmental exposures among electronic waste workers in Ghana. Int J Occup Env Heal 19:278–286

  5. Amankwah-Amoah J (2016) Global business and emerging economies: towards a new perspective on the effects of e-waste. Technol Forecast Soc 105:20–26

  6. Angerer J, Schaller K-H (2008) Analyses of hazardous substances in biological materials. German Research Foundation, Bonn

  7. Asante KA, Agusa T, Biney CA, Agyekum WA, Bello M, Otsuka M, Itai T, Takahashi S, Tanabe S (2012) Multi-trace element levels and arsenic speciation in urine of e-waste recycling workers from Agbogbloshie, Accra in Ghana. Sci Total Environ 424:63–73

  8. Asante KA, Pwamang JA, Amoyaw-Osei Y, Ampofo JA (2016) E-waste interventions in Ghana. Reviews on environmental health

  9. Atiemo SM, Ofosu FG, Aboh IJK, Oppon OC (2012) Levels and sources of heavy metal contamination in road dust in selected major highways of Accra, Ghana. X-Ray Spectrom 41:105–110

  10. Baldé CP, Wang F, Kuehr R, Huisman J (2015) The global e-waste monitor – 2014,. United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany. http://i.unu.edu/media/unu.edu/news/52624/UNU-1stGlobal-E-Waste-Monitor-2014-small.pdf

  11. Boamponsem LK, Adam JI, Dampare SB, Nyarko BJB, Essumang DK (2010) Assessment of atmospheric heavy metal deposition in the Tarkwa gold mining area of Ghana using epiphytic lichens. Nucl Instrum Meth B 268:1492–1501

  12. Breivik K, Armitage JM, Wania F, Jones KC (2014) Tracking the global generation and exports of e-waste: do existing estimates add up? Environ Sci Technol 48:8735–8743

  13. Brigden K, Labunska I, Santillo D, Johnston P (2008) Chemical contamination at e-waste recycling and disposal sites in Accra and Korforidua, Ghana. Greenpeace Research Laboratories, Technical Note 10/2008 10

  14. Castano A, Cutanda F, Esteban M, Part P, Navarro C, Gomez S, Rosado M, Lopez A, Lopez E, Exley K, Schindler BK, Govarts E, Casteleyn L, Kolossa-Gehring M, Fiddicke U, Koch H, Angerer J, Den Hond E, Schoeters G, Sepai O, Horvat M, Knudsen LE, Aerts D, Joas A, Biot P, Joas R, Jimenez-Guerrero JA, Diaz G, Pirard C, Katsonouri A, Cerna M, Gutleb AC, Ligocka D, Reis FM, Berglund M, Lupsa IR, Halzlova K, Charlier C, Cullen E, Hadjipanayis A, Krskova A, Jensen JF, Nielsen JK, Schwedler G, Wilhelm M, Rudnai P, Kozepesy S, Davidson F, Fischer ME, Janasik B, Namorado S, Gurzau AE, Jajcaj M, Mazej D, Tratnik JS, Larsson K, Lehmann A, Crettaz P, Lavranos G, Posada M (2015) Fish consumption patterns and hair mercury levels in children and their mothers in 17 EU countries. Environ Res 141:58-68

  15. Chi XW, Streicher-Porte M, Wang MYL, Reuter MA (2011) Informal electronic waste recycling: a sector review with special focus on China. Waste Manag 31:731–742

  16. Dapul H, Laraque D (2014) Lead poisoning in children. Adv Pediatr 61:313–333

  17. Esteban M, Schindler BK, Jimenez JA, Koch HM, Angerer J, Rosado M, Gomez S, Casteleyn L, Kolossa-Gehring M, Becker K, Bloemen L, Schoeters G, Den Hond E, Sepai O, Exley K, Horvat M, Knudsen LE, Joas A, Joas R, Aerts D, Biot P, Borosova D, Davidson F, Dumitrascu I, Fischer ME, Grander M, Janasik B, Jones K, Kasparova L, Larssen T, Naray M, Nielsen F, Hohenblum P, Pinto R, Pirard C, Plateel G, Tratnik JS, Wittsiepe J, Castano A, Labs ER (2015) Mercury analysis in hair: comparability and quality assessment within the transnational COPHES/DEMOCOPHES project. Environ Res 141:24–30

  18. ewasteguide.info (2009) e-waste. Hazardous Substances in e-Waste. A Knowledge Base for the Sustainable Recycling of E-Waste. E-Waste: A Swiss E-Waste Guide

  19. Feldt T, Fobil JN, Wittsiepe J, Wilhelm M, Till H, Zoufaly A, Burchard G, Goen T (2014) High levels of PAH-metabolites in urine of e-waste recycling workers from Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Sci Total Environ 466-467:369–376

  20. Flora G, Gupta D, Tiwari A (2012) Toxicity of lead: a review with recent updates. Interdiscip Toxicol 5:47–58

  21. Garcia-Leston J, Mendez J, Pasaro E, Laffon B (2010) Genotoxic effects of lead: an updated review. Environ Int 36:623–636

  22. Gilbert E, Dodoo DK, Okai-Sam F, Essuman K, Quagraine EK (2006) Characterization and source assessment of heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediments of the Fosu lagoon, Ghana. J Environ Sci Heal A 41:2747–2775

  23. Guo P, Xu X, Huang B, Sun D, Zhang J, Chen X, Zhang Q, Huo X, Hao Y (2014) Blood lead levels and associated factors among children in Guiyu of China: a population-based study. PLoS One 9:e105470

  24. Guo YY, Huo X, Li Y, Wu KS, Liu JX, Huang JR, Zheng GN, Xiao QN, Yang H, Wang YP, Chen AM, Xu XJ (2010) Monitoring of lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel in placenta from an e-waste recycling town in China. Sci Total Environ 408:3113–3117

  25. Ha NN, Agusa T, Ramu K, Tu NPC, Murata S, Bulbule KA, Parthasaraty P, Takahashi S, Subramanian A, Tanabe S (2009) Contamination by trace elements at e-waste recycling sites in Bangalore, India. Chemosphere 76:9–15

  26. Heacock M, Kelly CB, Asante KA, Birnbaum LS, Bergman AL, Brune MN, Buka I, Carpenter DO, Chen AM, Huo X, Kamel M, Landrigan PJ, Magalini F, Diaz-Barriga F, Neira M, Omar M, Pascale A, Ruchirawat M, Sly L, Sly PD, Van den Berg M, Suk WA (2016) E-waste and harm to vulnerable populations: a growing global problem. Environ Health Persp 124:550–555

  27. Herat S (2008) Recycling of cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in electronic waste. Clean-Soil Air Water 36:19–24

  28. Huo X, Peng L, Xu XJ, Zheng LK, Qiu B, Qi ZL, Zhang B, Han D, Piao ZX (2007) Elevated blood lead levels of children in Guiyu, an electronic waste recycling town in China. Environ Health Persp 115:1113–1117

  29. Iqbal M, Breivik K, Syed JH, Malik RN, Li J, Zhang G, Jones KC (2015) Emerging issue of e-waste in Pakistan: a review of status, research needs and data gaps. Environ Pollut 207:308–318

  30. Jian Z, Jian-Feng Z, Xian-Mei W, Nkrumah PN (2014) Comparative studies on e-waste disposal practices in developing countries and their environmental effects: an example between Guiyu, China and Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering 838-841(1–4):2701–2706

  31. Krause C, Babisch W, Becker K, Bernigau W, Helm D, Hoffmann K, Nöllke P, Schulz C, Schwabe R, Seifert B, Thefeld W (1996) Umwelt-Survey 1990/92, Band Ia: Studienbeschreibung und Human-Biomonitoring: Deskription der Spurenelementgehalte in Blut und Urin der Bevölkerung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. WaBoLu-Hefte 1

  32. Kylander ME, Rauch S, Morrison GM, Andam K (2003) Impact of automobile emissions on the levels of platinum and lead in Accra, Ghana. J Environ Monitor 5:91–95

  33. Larsen K. (1972) Creatinine assay by a reaction-kinetic principle. Clin Chim Acta 41:209–217

  34. Li Y, Xu XJ, Liu JX, Wu KS, Gu CW, Shao G, Chen SJ, Chen GJ, Huo X (2008a) The hazard of chromium exposure to neonates in Guiyu of China. Sci Total Environ 403:99–104

  35. Li Y, Xu XJ, Wu KS, Chen GJ, Liu JX, Chen SJ, Gu CW, Zhang B, Zheng LK, Zheng MH, Huo X (2008b) Monitoring of lead load and its effect on neonatal behavioral neurological assessment scores in Guiyu, an electronic waste recycling town in China. J Environ Monitor 10:1233–1238

  36. Liu JX, Xu XJ, Wu KS, Piao ZX, Huang JR, Guo YY, Li WQ, Zhang YL, Chen AM, Huo X (2011) Association between lead exposure from electronic waste recycling and child temperament alterations. Neurotoxicology 32:458–464

  37. Min KB, Min JY, Cho SI, Kim R, Kim H, Paek D (2008) Relationship between low blood lead levels and growth in children of white-collar civil servants in Korea. Int J Hyg Environ Health 211:82–87

  38. Mishra KP (2009) Lead exposure and its impact on immune system: a review. Toxicology in vitro: An International Journal published in Association with BIBRA 23:969–972

  39. Mittal A (2011) High blood lead levels in e-waste recyclers. Epidemiology 22:S293–S293

  40. Morf LS, Tremp J, Gloor R, Schuppisser F, Stengele M, Taverna R (2007) Metals, non-metals and PCB in electrical and electronic waste actual levels in Switzerland. Waste Manag 27:1306–1316

  41. Ni W, Chen Y, Huang Y, Wang X, Zhang G, Luo J, Wu K (2014) Hair mercury concentrations and associated factors in an electronic waste recycling area, Guiyu, China. Environ Res 128:84–91

  42. Niu RX, Wang ZS, Song QB, Li JH (2012) LCA of scrap CRT display at various scenarios of treatment. Procedia Environ Sci 16:576–584

  43. Olympio KPK, Gonçalves C, Günther WMR, Bechara EJH (2009) Neurotoxicity and aggressiveness triggered by low-level lead in children: a review. Revista Panamericana De Salud Publica-Pan American Journal of Public Health 26:266–275

  44. Puckett J, Westervelt S, Gutierrez R, Takamiya Y (2005) The digital dump - exporting re-use and abuse to Africa. The Basel Action Network

  45. Rana SV (2014) Perspectives in Endocrine Toxicity of Heavy Metals-A Review. Biol Trace Elem Res 160:1–14

  46. Robinson BH (2009) E-waste: an assessment of global production and environmental impacts. Sci Total Environ 408:183–191

  47. Sanders T, Liu Y, Buchner V, Tchounwou PB (2009) Neurotoxic effects and biomarkers of lead exposure: a review. Rev Environ Health 24:15–45

  48. Schmidt CW (2006) Unfair trade: e-waste in Africa. Environ Health Persp 114:A232–A235

  49. Shen XM, Wu SH, Yan CH (2001) Impacts of low-level lead exposure on development of children: recent studies in China. Clin Chim Acta 313:217–220

  50. Song Q, Li J (2014) A systematic review of the human body burden of e-waste exposure in China. Environ Int 68:82–93

  51. Song QB, Li JH (2015) A review on human health consequences of metals exposure to e-waste in China. Environ Pollut 196:450–461

  52. Sthiannopkao S, Wong MH (2013) Handling e-waste in developed and developing countries: initiatives, practices, and consequences. Sci Total Environ 463:1147–1153

  53. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Updated Tables August 2014

  54. Umweltbundesamt (2012a) Europäische Studie zur Umweltbelastung von Müttern und Kindern - Erste Ergebnisse aus DEMOCOPHES

  55. Umweltbundesamt (2012b) Referenzwerte für Antimon, Arsen und Metalle (Pd, Cd, Ni, Hg, Pt, Tl, U) im Urin oder im Blut

  56. Wang F, Kuehr R, Ahlquist D, Li J (2013) E-waste in China: A country report

  57. Wang H, Han M, Yang S, Chen Y, Liu Q, Ke S (2011a) Urinary heavy metal levels and relevant factors among people exposed to e-waste dismantling. Environ Int 37:80–85

  58. Wang Q, He AM, Gao B, Chen L, Yu QZ, Guo H, Shi BJ, Jiang P, Zhang ZY, Li PL, Sheng YG, Fu MJ, Wu CT, Chen MX, Yuan J (2011b) Increased levels of lead in the blood and frequencies of lymphocytic micronucleated binucleated cells among workers from an electronic-waste recycling site. J Environ Sci Heal A 46:669–676

  59. Wang XF, Miller G, Ding GQ, Lou XM, Cai DL, Chen ZJ, Meng J, Tang J, Chu C, Mo Z, Han JL (2012) Health risk assessment of lead for children in tinfoil manufacturing and e-waste recycling areas of Zhejiang Province, China. Sci Total Environ 426:106–112

  60. Wei L, Liu YS (2012) Present status of e-waste disposal and recycling in China. Procedia Environ Sci 16:506–514

  61. WHO (1995) Inorganic lead. World Health Organization, Geneva

  62. Wittsiepe J, Fobil JN, Till H, Burchard GD, Wilhelm M, Feldt T (2015) Levels of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and biphenyls (PCBs) in blood of informal e-waste recycling workers from Agbogbloshie, Ghana, and controls. Environ Int 79:65–73

  63. Wong MH, Wu SC, Deng WJ, Yu XZ, Luo Q, Leung AOW, Wong CSC, Luksemburg WJ, Wong AS (2007) Export of toxic chemicals—a review of the case of uncontrolled electronic-waste recycling. Environ Pollut 149:131–140

  64. Woo SH, Lee DS, Lim SR (2016) Potential resource and toxicity impacts from metals in waste electronic devices. Integr Environ Asses 12:364–370

  65. Xu X, Zeng X, Boezen HM, Huo X (2015) E-waste environmental contamination and harm to public health in China. Front Med 9:220–228

  66. Yang H, Huo X, Yekeen TA, Zheng QJ, Zheng MH, Xu XJ (2013a) Effects of lead and cadmium exposure from electronic waste on child physical growth. Environ Sci Pollut R 20:4441–4447

  67. Yang Y, Lu XS, Li DL, Yu YJ (2013b) Effects of environmental lead pollution on blood lead and sex hormone levels among occupationally exposed group in an E-waste dismantling area. Biomed Environ Sci 26:474–484

  68. Zahran S, Mielke HW, Weiler S, Berry KJ, Gonzales C (2009) Children's blood lead and standardized test performance response as indicators of neurotoxicity in metropolitan New Orleans elementary schools. Neurotoxicology 30:888–897

  69. Zeng X, Xu X, Boezen HM, Huo X (2016a) Children with health impairments by heavy metals in an e-waste recycling area. Chemosphere 148:408–415

  70. Zeng X, Xu X, Zheng X, Reponen T, Chen A, Huo X (2016b) Heavy metals in PM and in blood, and children's respiratory symptoms and asthma from an e-waste recycling area. Environ Pollut 210:346–353

  71. Zhang R, Xu C, Shen H, Tang Y, Meng J, Lu W, Wang X, Lou X, Song Y, Han G, Cai D, Ding G (2012) Oxidative damage and immunotoxicity effect of people who exposed to electronic waste. Wei sheng yan jiu = Journal of Hygiene Research 41:199–203

  72. Zhang RB, Huo X, Ho GY, Chen XJ, Wang HW, Wang TY, Ma L (2015) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity symptoms in preschool children from an E-waste recycling town: assessment by the parent report derived from DSM-IV. BMC Pediatr:15

  73. Zhang Y, Huo X, Cao J, Yang T, Xu L, Xu X (2016) Elevated lead levels and adverse effects on natural killer cells in children from an electronic waste recycling area. Environ Pollut 213:143–150

  74. Zheng LK, Wu KS, Li Y, Qi ZL, Han D, Zhang B, Gu CW, Chen GJ, Liu JX, Chen SJ, Xu XJ, Huo X (2008) Blood lead and cadmium levels and relevant factors among children from an e-waste recycling town in China. Environ Res 108:15–20

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors are very grateful to the staff of GIZ-ReCHT for the organizational and logistic support, the community sensitization group, medical and laboratory team, and above all, the participants who voluntarily agreed to take part in the study.

Author information

Correspondence to Jürgen Wittsiepe.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wittsiepe, J., Feldt, T., Till, H. et al. Pilot study on the internal exposure to heavy metals of informal-level electronic waste workers in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 3097–3107 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-016-8002-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • E-waste
  • Human biomonitoring
  • Metal
  • Lead
  • Nickel
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury
  • Chromium
  • Ghana
  • Accra
  • Agbogbloshie