My inquiry question is: What are the dangers of electronic consumer waste that we must consider globally?
Round 2 research: How does E-waste endanger animals, humans, and the environment? Specifically, does E-waste affect children, teenagers, adults, and seniors differently?
Unbeknownst to many people, electronic wastes contain toxic-substances, and they can cause harm to the world in many aspects. Environmentally, they pollute the air, soil, and water (1):
When e-waste is informally disposed, such as dismantling, shredding, or melting the materials, dust particles and toxins are released into the air. To dispose low-value e-wastes, burning is also commonly used. Although this method can extract valuable metals from electronics, the burning releases fine particles that cause numerous negative health risks such as chronic diseases and cancer. Acids, desoldering, and other chemicals are also used to remove higher-value materials, such as gold and silver, from highly integrated electronics. This action results fumes in areas where recycling is not regulated properly. This pollution can result in negative effects and extend thousands of miles away from the original recycling sites. Air pollution caused by e-waste can be more impactful than one may think. Over time, it will lead to a negative impact on soil, water quality, plant species, and create irreversible damage in our ecosystem.
Moreover, when e-waste in regular landfills are dumped illegally, the heavy metals and flame retardants can seep straight into the soil; thus, contaminating underlying groundwater or crops that may be planted nearby or in the are in the future. When soil is contaminated by these heavy metals, crops on this soil absorb these toxins, which can cause many illnesses and reduces the productiveness of the farmland. Due to their size and weight, large particles produced from burning, shredding, or dismantling e-waste also quickly re-deposit in the ground and contaminate the soil more. These pollutants can persist in the soil for a long time, resulting in harm to microorganisms and plants in the area. Ultimately, animals and wildlife that depend on nature for survival consume the affected plants, leading to internal health problems.
The heavy metals from e-waste that leak into the soil can further reach the groundwater, and eventually make their way into ponds, streams, rivers and lakes. Through these routs, water is acidified and toxified by the metals; this is not safe for animals, plants, and communities. Ultimately, finding clean drinking water becomes an issue. Acidification in water can kill marine and freshwater organisms; therefore, disturbing biodiversity and result in harm to the ecosystem. When acidification appear in water supplies, the damage caused in the ecosystem may not be recoverable.
Not only is improper handling damaging to the environment, it also harms humankind. When pollutants from e-waste get into the environment, the following health hazards can be caused (3):
- Reproductive issues
- Developmental problems
- Damage to the immune system
- Interference with regulatory hormones
- Damage to the nervous system
- Kidney damage
- Hamper’s brain development in children
- May lead to lung cancer
- Chronic beryllium disease
- Skin ailments
- Cadmium accumulations on liver and kidney
- Asthmatic bronchitis
- DNA damage
- Muscle weakness
- Endocrine system disruption
The chemicals within e-waste can often lead to severe health hazards that are sometimes fatal. Inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion allows these toxins to enter our body; thereafter, resulting in the risk of developing the above mentioned conditions (3). Children are particularly vulnerable as they are still growing. Being more susceptible to the threats, they may suffer from permanent disabilities, asthma, psychological and neurological damages, and even affect bone development (5). Pregnant women who are exposed to e-waste can also pass on increased health hazards to their children (4). Moreover, people who live, go to school, and play near e-waste recycling centres are constantly exposed to lead and mercury, which can damage their intellectual abilities (2).
Finally, when e-waste is not handled properly, the toxic chemicals are leached into the soil, air, and ground water. This can lead to results of contaminated wildlife, such as fish and land animals. Specifically, the pollutants in soil can result in harm to microorganisms and plants in the are (1). As part of the cycle, animals and wildlife that depend on food that grows from the ground will also be affected. Moreover, polluted air and water, being two of the largest components in an animal’s survival, will also result in significant negative impacts such as internal health problems, which also impacts their offspring (1).
- Elytus. (n.d.). E-Waste & its Negative Effects on the Environment | Elytus. https://elytus.com/blog/e-waste-and-its-negative-effects-on-the-environment.html
- Hub, I. S. K. (2021, September 29). Growing Threat of E-waste Affecting Millions of Children Worldwide, WHO Warns | News | SDG Knowledge Hub | IISD. International Institute for Sustainable Development. https://sdg.iisd.org/news/growing-threat-of-e-waste-affecting-millions-of-children-worldwide-who-warns/
- Ranganathan, V. (2021, April 8). Health hazards caused by unorganised e-waste disposal. YourStory.Com. https://yourstory.com/2018/06/unorganised-e-waste-disposal-dangers/amp
- Staff, C. (2019, April 17). The Real Environmental Toll Of Your Smartphone. Chatelaine. https://www.chatelaine.com/living/environmental-impact-of-smartphone-e-waste/
- Team, T. T. S. (2014, January 31). E-Waste & Children: How It Is Harming Future Generations. Two Sides North America. https://twosidesna.org/US/e-waste-children-how-it-is-harming-future-generations/