A review of the environmental fate and effects of hazardous substances released from electrical and electronic equipments during recycling: examples from China and India

Sepúlveda, A., Schluep, M., Renaud, F. G. , Streicher, M., Kuehr, R., Hagelüken, C. and Gerecke, A. C. (2010) A review of the environmental fate and effects of hazardous substances released from electrical and electronic equipments during recycling: examples from China and India. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30(1), pp. 28-41. (doi: 10.1016/j.eiar.2009.04.001)

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With the increasing global legal and illegal trade of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) comes an equally increasing concern that poor WEEE recycling techniques, particularly in developing countries, are generating more and more environmental pollution that affects both ecosystems and the people living within or near the main recycling areas. This review presents data found in the scientific and grey literature about concentrations of lead (Pb), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated dioxins and furans as well as polybrominated dioxins and furans (PCDD/Fs and PBDD/Fs) monitored in various environmental compartments in China and India, two countries where informal WEEE recycling plays an important economic role. The data are compared with known concentration thresholds and other pollution level standards to provide an indication of the seriousness of the pollution levels in the study sites selected and further to indicate the potential negative impact of these pollutants on the ecosystems and humans affected. The review highlights very high levels of Pb, PBDEs, PCDD/Fs and PBDD/Fs in air, bottom ash, dust, soil, water and sediments in WEEE recycling areas of the two countries. The concentration levels found sometimes exceed the reference values for the sites under investigation and pollution observed in other industrial or urban areas by several orders of magnitude. These observations suggest a serious environmental and human health threat, which is backed up by other studies that have examined the impact of concentrations of these compounds in humans and other organisms. The risk to the population treating WEEE and to the surrounding environment increases with the lack of health and safety guidelines and improper recycling techniques such as dumping, dismantling, inappropriate shredding, burning and acid leaching. At a regional scale, the influence of pollutants generated by WEEE recycling sites is important due to the long-distance transport potential of some chemicals. Although the data presented are alarming, the situation could be improved relatively rapidly by the implementation of more benign recycling techniques and the development and enforcement of WEEE-related legislation at the national level, including prevention of unregulated WEEE exports from industrialised countries.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Renaud, Professor Fabrice
Authors: Sepúlveda, A., Schluep, M., Renaud, F. G., Streicher, M., Kuehr, R., Hagelüken, C., and Gerecke, A. C.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social & Environmental Sustainability
Journal Name:Environmental Impact Assessment Review
ISSN (Online):1873-6432
Published Online:09 May 2009

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