New study highlights e-waste cancer risk

New study highlights e-waste cancer risk

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

Crude e-scrap processing sites in China rival the country's now infamous smog as a danger to human health, according to the results of a new study published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Specifically, the study found that residents living in rural areas less than a mile from an electronic scrap processing site were 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer than residents of the heavily populated industrial city of Guangzhou. The researchers narrowed down the likely cancer cause to airborne pollutants given off by the burning of scrap cell phones, computers, TVs and other scrap electronics for metal recovery by the informal recycling sector. Researchers detected these chemicals in the atmosphere 98 percent of the time in the rural area, versus 93 percent of the time in the city. However, direct contact with heavy metals and other carcinogenic chemicals was also observed.

"In the village, people were recycling waste in their yards and homes, using utensils and pots to melt down circuit boards and reclaim metals," said Staci Simonich, study co-author and professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University. "There was likely exposure through breathing, skin and food — including an intimate connection between e-waste and the growing of vegetables, raising of chickens and catching of fish."

In Guangzhou, the estimated rate of lung cancer attributable to airborne chemicals from e-scrap processing ranges from 9 to 737 cases per million people. In the rural study area, the estimated range increased to between 15 and 1,200 cases per million people.

The study was conducted by Oregon State University and partnering researchers in China, and funded through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institutes of Health.

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