Monday, 17 June 2019

WHO investigate “primitive” e-waste recycling by children

ewaste childrenAustralians selling their old mobile phones to buy-back schemes that ship them to developing countries should consider the potentially dangerous effects on children’s health from unregulated recycling.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in June launched an investigation into the hazardous work practices of unregulated electronic waste recycling plants and the health impact they can have on workers and their families.
The WHO announced plans tackle the emerging health threat at an international working meeting to review the current situation on dangerous electronic waste exposures and children’s health at the WHO head office in Geneva on 11-12 June 2013.
While the recycling of old mobile phones, laptops and other electronic equipment for valuable elements such as copper and gold in developing countries may sound like a positive for the environment, the WHO said the work practices of informal recycling plants can put workers and children in their local communities at risk.
“Many children are exposed to e-waste-derived chemicals in their daily life due to unsafe recycling activities that are often conducted at their home – either by family members or by the children themselves, the WHO said.
“Primitive recycling techniques such as burning cables for retaining the inherent copper expose both adult and child workers as well as their families to a range of hazardous substances.
“E-waste-connected health risks may result from direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), from inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as from accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food.”
“Children are especially vulnerable to the health risks that may result from e-waste exposure and, therefore, need more specific protection.”
Australians wanting to recycle or resell their old mobile phones through third party organisations should check where their devices end up, according to the head of the Australian mobile phone industry’s free recycling program MobileMuster, which fully recycles all handsets in Australia using accredited recycling programs.
“It might seem an attractive proposition to get money for your old handset, however, you should consider all potential costs of schemes that ship your old mobiles to a developing country in Africa or Asia,” MobileMuster Recycling Manager Rose Read said.
“The risk is that they are not recycled properly at the end of life and end up in poorly-managed landfills, increasing the risk of potentially hazardous materials, such as cadmium and lead, entering waterways and harming human health and the environment.”
Speaking at the WHO meeting, Director of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Dr Linda Birnbaum, said e-waste was a growing problem because of the rapid turnover of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, across both industrialised and developing countries.
“As a result, the amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, produced is considered one of the fastest growing global waste streams,” said Linda Birnbaum
The WHO said the expected outcome of the project would a state-of-the-art report “describing the situation, research needs, and development of a plan for future actions to protect children from the effects of e-waste.”

Published 6 November 2013

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