E-waste: the health risks - Blog

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Wednesday 21st August 2019

We have spoken fairly frequently about the health risks that people face when exposed to the dangerous toxins contained in e-waste. The effects associated with these may result from direct contact with the materials, such as inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as from accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food.

But what exactly are these toxins and what are their effects on the body? Here, we examine these questions and take a closer look at some of the most common ones and their commercial use.

Lead

As seen above, lead is found in the majority of the electronics we use, and dispose of, every day. This might come as a shock when you consider how dangerous it is. In 1971, the US congress phased out the use of lead paint in households because ingestion of it was proven to cause detrimental side effects. This includes irreversible neurological disorders in infants and toddlers which can continue until adulthood. Further to this, lead is also known to cause nerve damage and is especially detrimental to children who can acquire learning and intelligence problems.

So, the question comes naturally: if we don’t want to be around lead, why are we okay if others are?

Mercury


Mercury is also found in several of our devices. This chemical is considered by WHO as one of the top 10 chemicals causing major public health concerns. It has toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. What’s even worse is that exposure to it doesn’t have to be extensive. If people simply inhale its vapour, approximately 80% of it makes its way to the blood. Additionally, in pregnant women, this exposure may cause serious health problems and threaten the development of the child in utero and early life.

Simply looking at these two heavy metals and what they do to people exposed to them, brings to light the severity of the situation. According to WHO, about 70% of the heavy metals (including lead and mercury) found in landfills come from e-waste. Looking at these facts, one has to wonder; as we dispose of our electronics for the next best thing, have we become so desensitised that we’ve lost all ability to feel empathy towards others?

Make sure you are using a reputable collector when disposing of your e-waste and stop people who are less fortunate than you suffer.

If you want to read more about the realities of e-waste, follow our #BeClearOnData campaign @PaperRound.

Lorella Fava

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