MPPSC Exam Preparation – What is E-Waste? it’s Impact on Environment & Health

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Environment & General Science

What is E-Waste? Discuss its impact on the environment and health?

E-Waste is also called Electronic Waste, it is the name for electronic products that have come towards the end of its life cycle. The products include computers, monitors, printers, copiers, stereos, fax machines, cellphones, DVD players, cameras, batteries, and many more electronic devices. Used electronic devices can be reused, resold, recycled or disposed of.

The impact of E-Waste on the environment?

  1. Many of the electronic items like computers and other items have harmful toxic material within them like lead, zinc, chromium and more. If such materials when get mixed with the environment and can cause harm to the human body like the blood, kidney and nervous systems.
  2.   The e-waste when heated does releases the toxic chemical in the air which can damage the environment. The damage from heating e-waste is the biggest environmental impact on the atmosphere.
  3. These e-waste items are non-biodegradable and are complex and have been found to be difficult to re-cycle in a sustainable manner.
  4. When e-waste is thrown away in a land field its toxic materials seep into the ground affecting both land and sea animals. This can also affect the health of the people in the developing countries where most of the e-waste is dumped.

Developing countries with there rapidly growing economies handle e-waste from developed countries and with their own internal consumers. Currently, an estimated 70 percent of e-waste handled in India is from other nations, but the UNEP estimates that between 2007 and 2020, domestic television e-waste will double, computer e-waste will increase five times, and cell phones 18 times.

The processes of dismantling and disposing of electronic waste in developing countries led to a number of environmental impacts. Liquid and atmospheric releases end up in bodies of water, groundwater, soil, and air and therefore in land and sea animals – both domesticated and wild, in crops eaten by both animals and humans, and in drinking water.

One study of environmental effects in Guiyu, China found the following:

  • Airborne dioxins – one type found at 100 times levels previously measured
  • Levels of carcinogens in duck ponds and rice paddies exceeded international standards for agricultural areas and cadmium, copper, nickel, and lead levels in rice paddies were above international standards
  • Heavy metals found in road dust – lead over 300 times that of a control village’s road dust and copper over 100 times

A separate study at the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump, Ghana found a presence of lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm in the soil.US EPA standard for lead in soil in play areas is 400 ppm and 1200 ppm for non-play areas. Scrap workers at the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump regularly burn electronic components and auto harness wires for copper recovery, releasing toxic chemicals like lead, dioxins, and furans into the environment.

The impact of E-Waste on human health?

Residents living around the e-waste recycling sites, even if they do not involve in e-waste recycling activities, can also face the environmental exposure due to the food, water, and environmental contamination caused by e-waste, because they can easily contact to e-waste contaminated air, water, soil, dust, and food sources. In general, there are three main exposure pathways: inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact.

Studies show that people living around e-waste recycling sites have a higher daily intake of heavy metals and a more serious body burden. Potential health risks include mental health, impaired cognitive function, and general physical health damage. The DNA damage was also found more prevalent in all the e-waste exposed populations (i.e. adults, children, and neonates) than the populations in the control area. DNA breaks can increase the likelihood of wrong replication and thus mutation, as well as lead to cancer if the damage is to a tumor suppressor gene.

How e-waste make a major impact on children?

Children are especially sensitive to e-waste exposure because of several reasons, such as their smaller size, higher metabolism rate, larger surface area in relation to their weight, and multiple exposure pathways (for example, dermal, hand-to-mouth, and take-home exposure). They were measured to have an 8-time potential health risk compared to the adult e-waste recycling workers. Studies have found significantly higher blood lead levels (BLL) and blood cadmium levels (BCL) of children living in the e-waste recycling area compared to those living in the control area. For example, one study found that the average BLL in Guiyu was nearly 1.5 times compared to that in the control site, while the CDC of the United States has set a reference level for blood lead at 5 ug/dL. The highest concentrations of lead were found in the children of parents whose workshop dealt with circuit boards and the lowest was among those who recycled plastic.

Exposure to e-waste can cause serious health problems for children. Children’s exposure to developmental neurotoxins containing in e-waste such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and PBDEs can lead to a higher risk of lower IQ, impaired cognitive function, and other adverse effects. In certain age groups, a decreased lung function of children in e-waste recycling sites has been found. Some studies also found associations between children’s e-waste exposure and impaired coagulation, hearing loss, and decreased vaccine antibody tilters in the e-waste recycling area.

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