Every year, many of us have to have the greatest and latest gadgets or else sadness will ensue. It’s like an addiction. Certain addictions can be harmless, but many are harmful. How about the addiction of having more electronic gadgets? It’s harmful in a very subtle way which in the long run will affect many people in many ways. It’s all boiling down to electronic waste which also can be called as e-waste.
E-waste is multiplying everyday as we continue to abandon a year or two year old electronic products so we can gobble up new ones that come out yesterday or so. Before most e-waste end up in the landfills, these abandon electronic things tend to collect dust in closets and garages. Eventually, to free up the space of closets and garages, people have to discard their e-waste in landfills.
So what is the problem with throwing e-waste in landfills? As I read, I notice the complaints of health risks that are associating with having e-waste to be leached away in landfills and having e-waste to be recycled in unsafe manners. Many toxic elements (e.g., lead, cadmium, mercury, americium, sulphur, BFRs, beryllium oxide) come from e-waste that are not appropriately contained can be health hazardous to humans.
Let see how health hazardous it is for lead to be leaked into our environment through possible routes such as air, soil, water, food, and consumer products. Quoting directly from Wikipedia, lead can be dangerous to human health as how it’s described below:
Lead poisoning (also known as plumbism, colica Pictonum, saturnism, Devon colic, or painter’s colic) is a medical condition caused by increased levels of theheavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems. It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders. Symptoms include abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma, and death. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_poisoning
Quoting directly from Wikipedia, Cadmium poisoning can be dangerous to human health as how it’s described below:
Acute exposure to cadmium fumes may cause flu like symptoms including chills, fever, and muscle ache sometimes referred to as “the cadmium blues.” Symptoms may resolve after a week if there is no respiratory damage. More severe exposures can cause tracheo-bronchitis, pneumonitis, and pulmonary edema. Symptoms of inflammation may start hours after the exposure and include cough, dryness and irritation of the nose and throat, headache, dizziness, weakness, fever, chills, and chest pain.
Inhaling cadmium-laden dust quickly leads to respiratory tract and kidney problems which can be fatal (often from renal failure). Ingestion of any significant amount of cadmium causes immediate poisoning and damage to the liver and the kidneys. Compounds containing cadmium are also carcinogenic.
The bones become soft (osteomalacia), lose bone mineral density (osteoporosis) and become weaker. This causes the pain in the joints and the back, and also increases the risk of fractures. In extreme cases of cadmium poisoning, mere body weight causes a fracture.
The kidneys lose their function to remove acids from the blood in proximal renal tubular dysfunction. The kidney damage inflicted by cadmium poisoning is irreversible. The proximal renal tubular dysfunction creates low phosphate levels in the blood (hypophosphatemia), causing muscle weakness and sometimes coma. The dysfunction also causes gout, a form of arthritis due to the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints because of high acidity of the blood (hyperuricemia). Another side effect is increased levels of chloride in the blood (hyperchloremia). The kidneys can also shrink up to 30%.
Other patients lose their sense of smell (anosmia). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadmium_poisoning
Quoting directly from Wikipedia, Mercury poisoning can be dangerous to human health as how it’s described below:
Toxic effects include damage to the brain, kidney, and lungs. Mercury poisoning can result in several diseases, including acrodynia (pink disease), Hunter-Russell syndrome, and Minamata disease. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_poisoning
Mercury: found in fluorescent tubes (numerous applications), tilt switches (mechanical doorbells, thermostats), and flat screen monitors. Health effects include sensory impairment, dermatitis, memory loss, and muscle weakness. Environmental effects in animals include death, reduced fertility, slower growth and development. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste
Americium is known to be carcinogenic. To put this in another way, Americium can cause cancers.
Quoting directly from Wikipedia, Sulphur can be dangerous to human health as how it’s described below:
Sulphur: found in lead-acid batteries. Health effects include liver damage, kidney damage, heart damage, eye and throat irritation. When released in to the environment, it can create sulphuric acid. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste
Quoting directly from Wikipedia, BFRs can be dangerous to human health as how it’s described below:
BFRs: Used as flame retardants in plastics in most electronics. Includes PBBs, PBDE, DecaBDE, OctaBDE, PentaBDE. Health effects include impaired development of the nervous system, thyroid problems, liver problems. Environmental effects: similar effects as in animals as humans. PBBs were banned from 1973-1977 on. PCBs were banned during the 1980’s. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste
Quoting directly from Wikipedia, Beryllium Oxide can be dangerous to human health as how it’s described below:
Beryllium oxide: filler in some thermal interface materials such as thermal grease used on heatsinks for CPUs and power transistors, magnetrons, X-ray-transparent ceramic windows, heat transfer fins in vacuum tubes, and gas lasers. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste
Many developed countries acknowledge the health issues that are associating with e-waste, and so these countries have laws that restrict or ban the importation of e-waste from abroad. Although many developing countries know the health issues that are associating with e-waste, these countries somewhat lack in regulations to prevent the importation of e-waste. China passed law to prevent the importation of e-waste, but the law was and is ineffective from stopping the massive illegal importation of e-waste. A YouTube video below shows desperate Chinese who work for very little money in recycling e-waste factory of sort — these folks confront with health issues and problems that are responsible by the unsafe handling of e-waste.
Europe has proposed a law that requires big electronic retailers (including online retailers) to accept e-waste from consumers. To know more about this law, check out the article “New EU Proposals on E-waste to Help Consumers Recycle.”
In conclusion, e-waste is health hazardous when recycling or disposing e-waste improperly. E-waste can grow faster, because electronic market has become ever more competitive. More electronic products come out at faster pace, and prices for these products have become very affordable. These changes encourage consumers to acquire more of newer electronic products at faster pace, giving way to filling up the landfills faster with abandoned e-waste. Without wanting to accumulate e-waste, developed countries tend to illegally ship e-waste to developing countries for unsafe e-waste recycling and handling. To solve the e-waste problem, we need to promote the use of greener electronic products (i.e., friendlier to the environments). Perhaps, even that will not be able to cut back the disposable of e-waste, but at least greener e-waste (i.e., less toxic) will be somewhat safer to humans.
Sources: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/toxics/electronics/the-e-waste-problem/where-does-e-waste-end-up/, http://www.pcworld.com/article/241060/new_eu_proposals_on_ewaste_
Electronic_waste, http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-e-waste, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_poisoning, http://en.wikipedia.org