Electronic Waste Recycling: Occupational Exposures and Work-Related Health Effects
Purpose of Review
Electronic waste (e-waste) is a global public health challenge. E-waste recycling workers may be exposed to chemical, physical, ergonomic, and psychosocial hazards. This review provides an overview of recent research on occupational exposures in e-waste recycling and work-related health effects that can impact e-waste workers.
E-waste workers are exposed to a variety of chemicals including metals, particulates, persistent organic compounds, and flame retardants. Exposure varies according to job task with higher exposures observed for dismantling and burning e-waste. Exposure to job stress and physical hazards (e.g., noise) also occurs.
Many studies have measured workers’ exposure in the e-waste recycling industry; fewer have investigated health effects. Biological measures were reported more often than external exposure measures. In order to protect workers, efforts are required to better understand exposures and their health effects. Removing hazardous materials from electronic equipment and reducing e-waste production would benefit workers, communities, and the environment.
KeywordsElectronic waste Waste electrical and electronic Electronic scrap Occupational exposure Occupational disease
The authors would like to thank Heather Cunningham and Christina Kim from Research and Innovation Services at the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto for their assistance in designing the literature search strategy.
Compliance With Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
- 1.• Bakhiyi B, Gravel S, Ceballos D, Flynn MA, Zayed J. Has the question of e-waste opened a Pandora’s box? An overview of unpredictable issues and challenges. Environ Int. 2018;110(2017):173–92. Comprehensive review describing the complexity of managing the growing e-waste burden as well as the environmental and health implications. PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 2.• Baldé C., Forti V, Gray V, Kuehr R, Stegmann P. The global e-waste monitor – 2017, United Nations University (UNU), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Bonn/Geneva/Vienna. Estimates of the regional contribution to the global e-waste burden, including projections for future e-waste generation. Accessed 15 May 2019 Google Scholar
- 9.Step. One global definition of E-waste. Solving the e-waste problem (Step) white paper series. United Nations University/Step Initiative. 2014. Available from: http://www.stepinitiative.org/files/_documents/whitepapers/StEP_WP_One%20Global%20Definition%20of%20Ewaste_20140603_amended.pdf. Accessed 10 April 2019
- 10.Weckend S, Wade A, Heath G. End-of-life management of solar photovoltaic panels. International Renewable Energy Agency and International Energy Agency. 2016. Available from: https://www.irena.org/publications/2016/Jun/End-of-life-management-Solar-Photovoltaic-Pane. Accessed date: 15 May 2018.
- 11.Basel Convention. Amendment to the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal, Official website. Available from http://www.basel.int/Countries/StatusofRatifications/BanAmendment/tabid/1344/ Default.aspx. Accessed date: 2011.
- 12.Basel Convention. Reports and decisions. Decision IV/9 Adopted by the Conference of the Parties at its Fourth Meeting, 6 May 1998. 2011. Available from http://basel.int/TheConvention/ ConferenceoftheParties/ReportsandDecisions/tabid/3303/Default.aspx. Accessed date. 12 April 2018.
- 13.Nations. U, UN. United Nations System-wide Response to Tackling E-waste. 2017. https://unemg.org/images/emgdocs/ewaste/E-Waste-EMG-FINAL.pdf. Accessed date 16 April 2019.
- 14.Puckett J, Smith T, Byster L, Westerrelt S, Gutierrez R, Davis S, et al. Exporting harm: the high-tech trashing of Asia. Darby: Diane Pubublishing Co; 2003.Google Scholar
- 15.• Ceballos DM, Dong Z. The formal electronic recycling industry: challenges and opportunities in occupational and environmental health research. Environ Int. 2016;95:157–66. Comprehensive review of exposure data in electronic waste recycling and proposal of a research agenda for studying occupational and environmental health in the formal electronic recycling industry. PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 27.CalEPA. Air toxics hot spots program risk assessment guidelines. Part II. Technical support document for describing available cancer potency factors. California Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Sacramento, CA. 2005. Available from: https://oehha.ca.gov/media/downloads/crnr/may2005hotspots.pdf.
- 28.U.S. EPA. Supplemental Guidance for Assessing Cancer Susceptibility from Early-life Exposure to Carcinogens. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Risk Assessment Forum, Washington, DC. 2005. Available from: http://www.epa.gov/ncea/raf. Accessed date: 19 March 2019
- 31.Fang W, Xue M, Yang Y, Huang C, Xu Z. TSP, PM10 and health risk assessment for heavy metals (Cr, Ni, Cu, Zn, Cd, Pb) in the ambience of the production line for waste cathode ray tube recycling. J Mater Cycles Waste. 2014;18(2):296–302.Google Scholar
- 34.ASTDR. Toxicological Profile for Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). Agency Toxic Substance Disease Registry, Atlanta Georgia. 2000.Google Scholar
- 35.IARC. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, volume 107 A. Polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin-like, with a Toxicity Equivalency Factor (TEF) according to WHO (PCBs 77, 81, 105, 114, 118, 1. 2016.Google Scholar
- 36.US EPA. Learn about Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2018. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/pcbs/learn-about-polychlorinated-biphenyls-pcbs#healtheffects. Accessed date: 13 April 2019. 2018.
- 38.Zheng X, Xu F, Chen K, Zeng Y, Luo X, Chen S, et al. Flame retardants and organochlorines in indoor dust from several e-waste recycling sites in South China: composition variations and implications for human exposure. Environ Int. 2015;78:1–7. Available from. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2015.02.006.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- 39.He C-T, Zheng X-B, Yan X, Zheng J, Wang M-H, Tan X, et al. Organic contaminants and heavy metals in indoor dust from e-waste recycling, rural, and urban areas in South China: spatial characteristics and implications for human exposure. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2017;140:109–15. Available from. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoenv.2017.02.041.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 40.Chakraborty P, Prithiviraj B, Selvaraj S, Kumar B. Polychlorinated biphenyls in settled dust from informal electronic waste recycling workshops and nearby highways in urban centers and suburban industrial roadsides of Chennai city, India: levels, congener profiles and exposure assessment. Sci Total Environ. 2016;573:1413–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 43.Zheng J, He C-T, Chen S-J, Yan X, Guo M-N, Wang M-H, et al. Disruption of thyroid hormone (TH) levels and TH-regulated gene expression by polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and hydroxylated PCBs in e-waste recycling workers. Environ Int. 2017;102:138–44.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 44.Zheng J, Yu LH, Chen SJ, Hu GC, Chen KH, Yan X, et al. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in human hair and serum from e-waste recycling workers in Southern China: concentrations, chiral signatures, correlations, and source identification. Environ Sci Technol. 2016;50(3):1579–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 54.Anh HQ, Nam VD, Tri TM, Ha NM, Ngoc NT, Mai PTN, et al. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in plastic products, indoor dust, sediment and fish from informal e-waste recycling sites in Vietnam: a comprehensive assessment of contamination, accumulation pattern, emissions, and human exposure. Environ Geochem Health. 2017;39(4):935–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 55.•• Abafe OA, Martincigh BS. An assessment of polybrominated diphenyl ethers and polychlorinated biphenyls in the indoor dust of e-waste recycling facilities in South Africa: implications for occupational exposure. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2015;22(18):14078–86. Results demonstrate that site cleanup/maintenance can result in decreased PBDE dust levels, suggesting that hygiene practices may be effective for reducing exposure via dust. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 56.Chen H, Lam JCW, Zhu M, Wang F, Zhou W, Du B, et al. Combined effects of dust and dietary exposure of occupational workers and local residents to short- and medium-chain chlorinated paraffins in a mega e-waste recycling industrial park in South China. Environ Sci Technol. 2018;52:11510–9.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- 57.Gravel S, Lavoué J, Bakhiyi B, Diamond ML, Jantunen LM, Lavoie J, et al. Halogenated flame retardants and organophosphate esters in the air of electronic waste recycling facilities: evidence of high concentrations and multiple exposures. Environ Int. 2019 Jul; 128:244–253.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 58.Rosenberg C, Hämeilä M, Tornaeus J, Säkkinen K, Puttonen K, Korpi A, et al. Exposure to flame retardants in electronics recycling sites. Ann Occup Hyg. 2011; 6:658–65Google Scholar
- 67.Burns KN, Sun K, Fobil JN, Neitzel RL. Heart rate, stress, and occupational noise exposure among electronic waste recycling workers. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Jan 19;13(1). pii: E140.Google Scholar
- 70.Wang Q, He AM, Gao B, Chen L, Yu QZ, Guo H, et al. 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 Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2011;46(6):669–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 76.Cherrie JW. The beginning of the science underpinning occupational hygiene. Ann Occup Hyg. 2003; 47:179–85.Google Scholar
- 84.Lundgren K. The global impact of e-waste: addressing the challenge. ILO, Geneva. 2012;71.Google Scholar