One end-of-life treatment for electronic products is land-filling. In the US, some states have implemented landfill bans to accompany e-waste laws to reach collection goals and ensure e-waste is funneled through the proper channels.The danger in landfilling e-waste is that hazardous materials can leach out into groundwater or run off and pollute nearby water bodies.
Hazardous materials in electronic devices
Electronic devices are combinations of hundreds of different types of materials; many of them are considered to be toxic when exposed to humans. Although present within the device, these toxic heavy metals have only been documented to become a health hazard once the device is broken down. The process of electrical device breakdown occurs in a variety of locations and settings (recycling sites, storage locations), yet becomes a prominent health hazard when broken down in domestic or international sites that do not have the correct equipment or recycling methods. When taken apart without proper recycling methods, tools, or protective wear, workers and residents become exposed to the toxic chemicals in the devices. E-waste negatively impacts health primarily through the exposure of heavy metal dioxins. Incinerating e-waste without proper workplace and environmental regulations poses a risk because it generates dioxins, which can cause cancer and plague the human body and environment for long periods of time.Moreover, open burning, a common practice in developing countries receiving e-waste, releases toxic fumes and dust that can be easily inhaled and effect nearby food sources and water bodies. In addition to direct exposure through open burning and dismantling, e-waste storages and landfills can result in leakage of dioxins into the natural surroundings area. These dioxins are able to permeate the soil and contaminate ground water and nearby vegetation; not only does ecological contamination negatively affect overall ecosystem function, but it is another method in which all living organisms' health risks increase dramatically.
A few of these chemicals include:
Flame retardants: Some flame retardants like Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), which can be found in e-waste plastic to make electronic products more flame resistant, are emitted into the environment through e-waste dismantling and become dust and air. BFRs are one of the materials that are used in the making of circuit boards and plastic casings. BFRs, which are fat-soluble, bioaccumulate causing neurological disorders and endocrine disruption. PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a class of BFRs, interfere with brain development of animals and in the hormones associated with sexual development. Specifically birds near processing sites who often carry these compounds in their shell.Long Term exposure to this toxin can result in problems concerning learning capability and memory function.Because of their toxicity, electronic manufacturers are phasing out BFRs.Lead: One can be exposed to lead through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact,which could produce nausea, vomiting, and convulsions, coma, or even death and in chronic cases can cause anemia and abdominal pain. Metallic lead exists in the electrical circuit boards and lead oxide is a component of the cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and is used to connect the glass face plate with funnel sections. Lead can be found in lead-acid batteries, solders, and in televisions and monitors.Lead can leach from CRTs in landfill conditions, be released into the air through incineration, glass crushing, or high temperature processing. Similar to other toxins, lead can accumulate in the human body and biomass over a long period of time and can have damaging impacts on the nervous, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. Lead is found in such high quantities of electronic waste that in the United States, prison recycling programs were found to have 50 times the safe level set by the EPA. Also, in China, children living near electronic waste processing sites are recorded to have 3 times the safe level of lead in their blood.Cadmium: Cadmium is another metal, which is found in rechargeable batteries and “phosphor” coatings in older cathode ray tubes (CRTs).Cadmium compounds are used in a variety of electronic products, their functions ranging from stabilizing PVC formations to serving as wire insulators. Cadmium is a rare metal that is very toxic to plants, animals, and humans and is released into the air by incineration or poorly executed dismantling. When released, cadmium commonly accumulates in nearby crops, resulting in the additional exposure to humans and animals. Occupationally, fumes and dust containing cadmium compounds, a known carcinogen, can be inhaled directly and long term exposure results in kidney failure and bone problems. Heart disease, hypertension, and lung cancer are other health effects of cadmium inhalation.Cadmium exposure is also associated with deficits in motor skills, cognition, and learning in children.Mercury: Mercury is primarily utilized in the lighting mechanisms for flat-screen devices. Mercury is a highly toxic chemical that can have fatal or severely damaging effects on the human central nervous system, especially during early development ages. As one of the most toxic and popular metals used in electronic products,mercury is an e-waste pollutant that one can be exposed to through inhalation and skin contact, and is known to cause vomiting, fever, and diarrhea symptoms and in chronic cases produce tremors. Because of its widespread application, mercury can be found in common household products like batteries, fluorescent lamps, and thermostats.
Kentucky does not have a state e-waste program. Kentucky has introduced legislation in the past but never successfully passed a law.
Kentucky Heirs To Our Oceans are working on raising awareness and are working on finding legislators who are interested in helping to draft a bill to protect our environment and Kentuckians from the harmful effects of E-waste.