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Environmental contamination from electronic waste recycling at Guiyu, southeast China

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 September 2006

This article has been updated


The disposal, recycling, and part salvaging of discarded electronic devices such as computers, printers, televisions, and toys are now creating a new set of waste problems. This study is aimed at identifying the sources and quantifying the pollution levels generated from electronic waste (e-waste) activities at Guiyu, Guangdong Province, China, and their potential impacts on the environment and human health. The preliminary results indicate that total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in soil obtained from a printer roller dump site was 593 µg/kg dry weight (dry wt.) and in sediment from a duck pond, the PAH concentration was 514 µg/kg (dry wt.). Sediment from the Lianjiang River was found to be contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls (743 µg/kg) at a level approaching three times the Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines probable effect level of 277 µg/kg. Total mono- to hepta-brominated diphenyl ether homologue concentrations (1140 and 1169 µg/kg dry wt.) in soils near dumping sites were approximately 10–60 times those reported for other polybrominated diphenyl ether-contaminated locations in the world. In-house study on the open burning of cable wires showed extremely high levels of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans resulting in 12419 ng toxic equivalents (TEQ)/kg of waste input and 15 610 ng TEQ/kg for two separate tests, respectively, which were about three orders of magnitude higher than those for the open burning of household waste. High levels of Cu (712, 528, and 496 mg/kg), exceeding the new Dutch list action value, were determined for soil near the printer roller dumping area, sediment from Lianjiang River, and soil from a plastic burn site, respectively. A more thorough study is underway to elucidate the extent of contamination of toxic pollutants in different ecological compartments to establish whether these pollutants are bioaccumulated and biomagnified through food chains. Assessments of human health impacts from oral intake, inhalation, and dermal contact will be subsequently investigated.

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  • 01 September 2006

    The data on PCDD/F emissions appearing in the Abstract and in the Results and discussion section titled “Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans as a result of open burning” on pages 21 and 29, respectively, of Vol. 8 (2006), No.1, were published as a result of miscommunication and with insufficient attribution. The original source and correct concentrations can be found in an article by Brian K. Gullet, William P. Linak, Abderrahmane Touati, Shirley J. Wasson, Staci Gatica, and Charles K. King, to be published in the Journal of Material Cycles and Waste Management, Vol. 9 (2007), No. 1.


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Correspondence to Ming Hung Wong.

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Leung, A., Cai, Z. & Wong, M. Environmental contamination from electronic waste recycling at Guiyu, southeast China. J Mater Cycles Waste Manag 8, 21–33 (2006).

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