The dismantling of electronic devices
An International study recently published in the journal Science of the Total Environment has shown that disassembling appliances with electronic waste can expose the people who do it to dangerous pollutants.
Ethel Eljarrat, a scientific researcher at the Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), in Barcelona, has participated in the research.
Eljarrat’s work focuses on the study of the impact of persistent and emerging organic pollutants, especially plasticizers, halogenated and organophosphate flame retardants, chlorinated paraffins, pyrethroid insecticides and polar pesticides.
15 workers: from age 14 to 60
The international study has measured the level of exposure to plasticizers and flame retardants of 15 workers in the dismantling of electronic remains in Dhaka (Bangladesh), where these tasks are done outdoors.
To measure the exposure of the workers to the toxins, among which were children of 14 years old and adults of 60, the scientists used two methods: cotton shirts and silicone bracelets, which were used to estimate the fraction of chemical substance that could eventually penetrate the organism through the skin.
The result was that the researchers found up to 23 compounds in the samples analyzed, with high concentrations of up to 2 micrograms for every 10 square centimeters of surface.
Carcinogenic effects + neurological and endocrine disorders
Among the most dangerous compounds were a neurotoxic flame retardant (the prolibrominated diphenyl ether deca-BDE-209) whose production is prohibited by the Stockholm Convention, but whose recycling is allowed until 2030, and organophosphate plasticizers are also related to possible carcinogenic effects and neurological disorders.
Neither in our country nor in the European Union have this type of studies been carried out, and it is unknown whether the workers who are engaged in the dismantling of electronic devices are as unprotected as the workers in, in this case, Bangladesh.
However, it is known from previous studies that in a Canadian facility where the same type of dismantling was carried out, the levels of pollutants were even higher, probably because, while in Bangladesh this activity is carried out in the open air, in Canada it is carried out in closed spaces.
We need studies that analyze and measure the level of toxicity to which they are exposed. Not only the people who for economic reasons are employed in the disassembly of electronic devices, but also the people in their closest family environment.
In any case, it is evident that we need studies that analyze and measure the level of toxicity to which both people are exposed. From those who, due to an economic imperative, are employed in this work activity, to the people in their closest family environment.
Of course, we cannot wash our hands and close our eyes to the evidence: the garbage, especially the most polluting and dangerous, should be dealt with in the place where it was generated, in this case, the European Union.
Of course, in order to do this, governments should use more economic resources to develop the means to make recycling really safe, both for the people directly involved and their families and for the environment.