Many health risks are involved with the dismantling and burning of e-waste. This is mostly due to the lack of health and safety laws, or poorly enforced ones, that do not require the companies to provide safe working environments and safety gear for the workers to wear.
The toxins that are burned to get to the precious metals inside of the discarded cellular material, such as copper, gold and silver, create a black smoke that billows out from the pits where the burning metal lies.This smoke can damage the lungs and cause many respiratory diseases and cancers. The toxins and poisons found in e-waste include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PVCs (polyvinyl chloride), arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, flame retardants and Lithium which is found in Li-batteries, which are highly toxic.
There are many rules put in place for MEDCs (more economically developed countries) such as the USA to look after their workers in electronic waste recycling plants.A few of the safety regulations that the companies have to abide by, put in place by the California Department of Public Health, are; regularly inspect the workplace and correct unsafe conditions and provide and require use of safe tools and equipment. They also state that workers should, wear personal protective equipment such as eye and ear protection, gloves, and when needed, face masks.
The document also states that employers should keep the eating area clean. Unfortunately for the e-waste dismantlers in China, Ghana and Pakistan these work conditions aren’t put in place.This can lead to many negative health side-effects due to the toxins in the e-waste. Workers in less economically developed countries (LEDCs) do not have the resources to build indoor, state of the art recycling facilities and therefore they are dismantled and burned outdoors. In some places in Guiyu, China burn houses are used in an attempt to prevent open burning where the smoke disperses into the air polluting it. Unfortunately, poor ventilation means that the workers health is being put at risk for the sake of the environment.The smoke from the burning electronic goods is poisonous to those who inhale it as there are many toxins being burned in the e-waste.
In Pakistan whilst melting the gold (which uses many chemicals) the only safety precaution is to keep the mouth closed and holding their breath. This is dangerous and unsafe. Two of the most toxic substances in e-waste are Lead and Cadmium. The effects of exposure to lead are the same whether they are inhaled or digested (eaten/drunk). Lead has many health risks such as damage to the nervous and blood systems (lead poisoning), impacts on the kidneys, anemia, miscarriage and birth defects.An effect of lead on children is that children who are exposed to lead frequently have a higher chance of being intellectually impaired. Cadmium can accumulate within the human body and this can result in kidney damage and bone toxicity. Cadmium primarily affects the kidneys however cadmium can also disrupt calcium levels causing bone defects as well as an increase in levels of heart disease and high blood pressure.
In the short term, inhalation cadmium fumes (smoke) or dusts can affect the respiratory system.In the long term inhaling Cadmium constantly can result in lung cancer as one of it’s most prominent side effects. Guiyu has one of the highest numbers of cancer causing dioxins in the world. Under the WEEE legislation (waste electrical and electronic equipment) batteries containing more than 0. 025% cadmium by weight must be separated from waste-streams and must be recycled in an appropriate destination. In LEDCs however there are no appropriate facilities and most of the e-waste is sent illegally so there is no way to measure the amounts of toxins in them.
This is very dangerous and poses many health risks and hazardous side-effects. Other toxins that are found in e-waste are PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs have a wide range of toxic effects including immunosuppression, liver damage, tumour promotion, neurotoxicity, behavioural changes and damage to both male and female reproductive systems. Studies show that when fish are exposed to PCBs people that eat them, even when the exposure is relatively low, there is an impact on the immune system growth retardation and neurological defects.The health problems produced by e-waste can be shown through studies and research in places where e-waste is improperly disposed. Such as in Guiyu, where blood samples shoe up to 200% higher levels than normal of dioxins which are linked to thyroid disorders and abnormal brain development. As well as this in e-waste recycling nations pregnancies are six times more likely to end in miscarriage and seven out of ten children are born with levels of lead in their blood which is 50% higher than children elsewhere.
This is not only dangerous for the children’s future but to the future of their children in the long term as they can pass their diseases and abnormalities on to their children. The problems that the ‘recyclers’ are facing are not only created by smoke inhalation and dust inhalation but also by the eating environments for the people that are in, and near them. The workers meals are often prepared and eaten at their work, this means that all the toxins can sit ontop of the food and contaminate it.As well as this smoke plumes from the Agbogbloshie burning site in Accra, Ghana travel into the main Accra food market which contaminates the food. As well as this the smoke plumes travel into the nearby residential area, this puts the health of the nearby families at risk even if they to not work in the e-waste industry. In Guiyu some part of the 88% of the abnormalities created from e-waste pollution is a digestive abnormalities. This is due to the consumption of food contaminated by the toxins and dioxins produced by e-waste. The water in Pakistan, Ghana, China and other LEDCs many of the water sources are polluted by ash.
This damages the environment surrounding the waterways as the plants that are nearby die and the animals that drink from it are poisoned. These animals provide milk and meat for those in the poorer areas. As these animals are poisoned from the toxins,those who collect their nutrition for it will be poisoned also. The waterways are also the towns water supply. Most of the citizens in these areas try not to use the water that run into their taps and wells but their economic position does not allow them to provide their families with clean water.In Guiyu the price of watter, bottled and un-bottled, is ten times more expensive than that in Chendian, a neighbouring township. As the e-waste collectors earn a wage that is enough to supply their families with the necessities and some luxuries they are unable to buy enough clean water for everyday drinking, cleaning and showering. This puts them at risk of many more health problems.
Some of these illnesses can be prevented or cured by medication or treatment. The pay that the workers get is not enough to buy medication or treatment therefore they are not able to recover from their illnesses.E-waste poses many health risks for workers and nearby citizens of the townships and countries in which the waste in dismantled and burned. These are due to the many toxins and poisons hidden in our everyday electronics. Positive impacts on importers Although there are many negative aspects of e-waste dismantling and disposal there are some positive aspects for the importers of e-waste.
There are thousands and thousands of people living off e-waste and if that was going to disappear many people would be out of a job. E-waste is a major contributor to the LEDCs economy.Guiyu is located in Guangdong Province in Southern China, close to Hong Kong and the Southern China Sea. It has a population of 197,190 and it employs over 150,000 people in the e-waste industry.
Guiyu’s entire economy is centred around e-waste with an approximate 100,000 migrant workers are employed in the process, this adds to Guiyu’s economy also as the migrant workers will pay the other citizens not involved in e-waste for their basic needs. The migrants come to Guiyu because the wages are five times higher than the local average. The workers in Guiyu make around $8 a day dismantling electronics.This popular e-waste destination has accommodated and processed millions of tons of e-waste from overseas a year within a 53km2 radius. 60-80% of the families there have engaged in e-waste recycling operations, conducted by small family-run workshops. This creates money within the families, not being moved overseas or through corporations, this not only means that extended families are being provided with the things they need but in the long term new generations of family have a job left for them when they get older, creating long term employment in Guiyu.
90% of the regional government’s revenue in Guangdong province is from the e-waste exporters paying for the e-waste to be ‘recycled’. This makes it difficult for the government to enforce it’s law as China officially bans the import of electronic waste, but the massive revenue over rules human rights. The people within the areas where they dismantle e-waste want the electronic waste also as it feeds and clothes their family. This keeps the poorer area of China profitable as China does not have any major natural resources to export in these poorer areas.
It is estimated Guiyu earns over $75 million dollars a year from the processing of over 1. 5 million tons of e-waste. In New Delhi, India, there are 25,000 people involved in the process of burning e-waste. Most of the workers are illiterate so this employs them where other jobs are unable to accommodate their illiteracy. The money produced from the e-waste ‘recycling’ has allowed some companies located in and around Delhi to accumulate enough money to be able to build a facility that can handle up to 10,000 tonnes of e-waste per year.This will be able to process e-waste faster and for more people to be employed. 29. 8% of India were living below the national poverty line in 2010, and 32.
67 were living below the international poverty line of US$1. 25 per day. Recycling e-waste in these countries produces around US$2 a day, this means that the workers are above the national and international poverty line. With 52% of India living in slums electronic waste helps them slowly more out of poverty.
In the long term if more people move out of the slums India’s reputation will increase as the slums have a horrible stench and look to them.If the slums decrease India’s tourism revenue will increase due to the increasingly better look of India’s main city’s such as Mumbai where 1 in 6 people live in the slums. In Pakistan there are high official unemployment rates, this is a result of 50% of children in their fist five years of education dropping out of school, due to beatings from teachers. As e-waste recycling involves no special skills many of these children starting as young as twelve venture from small towns to earn money to support their families.The workers work 12 hour shifts and are paid US$2. 70 a day, which is good pay.
E-waste positively affects countries who import it on an economic and social level as well. Due to the pay from dismantling e-waste many people are helped above the poverty line and as a result can help developing countries economically. There are many benefits for e-waste being sent to LEDCs.
Negative impacts on exporters Exporting e-waste is not only illegal but is also viewed as wrong by many high impact environmental and health organisations.These are negative impacts on the exporters of e-waste as these can affect their economy and social well-being of the country and it’s citizens. E-waste exporting is a frowned upon trade as electronic waste is being shipped from more economically developed countries to less economically developed countries. These economically developed countries such as the United States of America, Australia and countries within the European Union such as Germany, The Netherlands and France, export 20-50 million tones of e-waste per year to less economically developed countries such as Pakistan, India and Ghana.Many major environment organisations put pressure on MEDCs and MEDC companies to stop shipping e-waste overseas. These organisations include Greenpeace, The Basel Action Network and Change. The organisations against e-waste, especially Greenpeace, are visiting the countries in which e-waste is exported to and videoing their daily lives as well as writing reports on them.
They are then presenting these videos and reports to the public, companies and governments of MEDCs.This not only puts the companies under pressure from enraged customers demanding they recycle their electronics properly but also puts affects the social well-being of the citizens in the countries. When the people inside the MEDCs give away their e-waste to be recycled, or in this case exported, they think they are doing the right thing, but when they realise that what they are doing is putting others health at risk they receive a sense of guilt.Exporting e-waste is not only immoral but illegal. The Basel Action Network runs an e-waste program to ensure that the exports of electronic waste to developing countries are eliminated and replaced with producer responsibility and green design programs.
In some US states residents who knowledgeably give e-waste to exporters can be fined around $100 and companies can face $500 to $1000 per offence. Some companies have been reported to have been fined up to $2million.If companies are reported to have been illegally exporting e-waste many people will refrain from purchasing their goods to stop the companies from illegally exploiting LEDCs. These negative impacts from organisations and consumers trigger companies to create greener designs.
This economically effects the companies in the short term as building greener technology costs a lot more money that building cheap quality, short life electronics. Greener technology will not only reduce the amount of e-waste produced as it lasts longer than cheap electronics it also produces less toxins than normal e-waste.This does have a massive impact on the revenue for the company as green electronics are around 37% on average more expensive than normal electronics. This will lower the companies revenue as when the prices rise the business falls. Consumers would rather buy cheaper electronics that do the same job as the original product. In the long term however this can save the companies money as recycling in their own countries will be cheaper and greener as they are using environmentally friendly materials.