Dismantling of e-waste causes exposure to hazardous contaminants

A study carried out by IDAEA-CSIC highlights the risk of some compounds used in wire insulation, plastic electronics housing, LCD panels and circuit boards.

An international study featuring the participation of researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has shown that dismantling electronic waste causes exposure to contaminants that are dangerous for the health. The study reveals the risk associated with some compounds used in wire insulation, plastic electronics housing, LCD panels and the circuit boards of electrical and electronic equipment.

These conclusions are the results of a study led by Miriam Diamond, a researcher at the University of Toronto, with the participation of Ethel Eljarrat, a researcher at the CSIC Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (IDAEA-CSIC). The study analysed the exposure of workers engaged in e-waste dismantling in Dhaka (Bangladesh) and has been published in the Science of the Total Environment journal.

The problem of waste electrical and electronic equipment

The growing demand for technological products has exponentially increased the amount of electronic waste produced in recent decades. E-waste production was estimated at 41.8 million tonnes in 2014. Over a million tonnes of e-waste is produced every year in Spain alone, 750,000 tonnes of which can be recycled.

The conclusions of the study reinforce growing concern regarding the exposure of workers in contact with electronic waste, particularly in developing countries, where adequate protective equipment is not available. However, the problem is not exclusively limited to these countries. A previous study carried out at a Canadian facility revealed even higher levels of toxic contaminants.

The difference could be related to the location of workshops. In Bangladesh, workshops are open and, therefore, have better ventilation, whereas in Canada, they are located in enclosed spaces. “Workers in all countries are highly exposed if they do not have personal protective equipment (PPE). These results should be taken into account when implementing measures to protect the population in general and measures to promote safe e-waste dismantling for workers”, says Eljarrat.