During our zeal to recapture manufacturing like Apple iPhone and solar panel construction during the last four years, something obvious was ignored; the environmental hazards were never going to be acceptable in the USA. The rich people who can afford the latest technology turn a blind eye to non-union wages, slave labor and environmental impact as long as it is happening in th developing world.
Electronic trash, such as cell phones, computers and TVs, is often collected in dumps in developing countries and crudely incinerated to recover precious metals, including silver, gold, palladium and copper. The process is often primitive, releasing fumes with a range of toxic substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a group of more than 100 chemicals. PAHs, many of which are recognized as carcinogenic and linked to lung cancer when inhaled, were the focus of the study.
Over the course of a year, researchers collected air samples from two rooftops in two areas in China. They found that living near an e-waste recycling site elevated risks of lung cancer.
One was in a rural village in the southern province of Guangdong less than a mile from an active e-waste burning site and not surrounded by any industry. The other was Guangzhou, a city heavily polluted by industry, vehicles and power plants but not e-waste. The scholars concluded that those living in the e-waste village are 1.6 times more likely to develop cancer from inhalation than their urban-dwelling peers.
"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, co-author of the study and a 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."
The researchers estimated that of each million people in the e-waste area, 15 to 1,200 would develop lung cancer on account of PAHs over their lifetimes, while the likelihood in the city is slightly lower at 9 to 737 per million. These approximations do not include lung cancer caused by smoking.
The study also found that the level of airborne carcinogenic PAHs exceeded China's air quality standards 98 percent of the time in the e-waste area and 93 percent of the time in the city.
Published in Environmental Science and Technology.