Health Hazards of E-Waste Recycling and Hospitals’ Role in India

E-Waste Management is one of the major areas of concerns today. Researchers are trying to find new ways to reduce, recycle and reuse the E-Waste and governments are trying to find methods of implementations of e-waste management schemes. Developed nations are trying to cope up with this startling problem and the result is the dumping of e-waste into the developing countries like India.

New health problems are emerging due to the unmanaged E-Waste industry. As the electronic recycling is an unregulated industry in India, the recycling process is dangerous to the health of its employees. A study of the related health studies in China has shown the impact of e-Waste recycling on health of workers. Such studies are important for India as these will help in designing better policies of E-Waste Management. In this paper, we present the problem of e-waste with the focus on the health. A study about the role of hospitals in dealing with this problem is also being presented with a focus of new initiatives that can be taken by hospitals in this regard.

It is a major area of concern today that the wealthy countries are dumping large quantities of e-waste into the developing world. According to (Rachel Kesselman, 2007), currently, companies export 80 percent of the world’s electronic trash to Asia, and 90 percent of this flows into China, according to a BBC report. The article (Toxic Links, 2008) besides discussing the problem of e-waste recycling in India and the economies involved expresses the urgent need for educating consumers and the general public regarding the potential threat to public health and the environment posed by their products and for raising awareness for the proper waste management protocols.

According to (Rachel Kesselman, 2007), The Indian government estimates that the country generates approximately 146,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, and that another 150,000 tonnes of used PCs, printers and other IT devices enter its ports illegally.
Greenpeace International released a report (GreenPeace International, 2005) in August 2005 about the hazardous chemicals found in scrap yards in India that include tin, lead, copper, cadmium and antimony in the soil and local rivers around scrap yards where the electronic waste is recycled. It also emphasized the fact that all stages in e-waste processing could release substantial quantities of toxic heavy metals and organic compounds into the workplace environment.

The e-waste recycling and disposal operations found in developing countries are extremely polluting and likely to be very damaging to human health (Robert Bortner, 2008).
According to (Habib Beary, 2005), computers, refrigerators, televisions and mobiles contain more than 1,000 different toxic materials. Chemicals such as beryllium, found in computer motherboards, and cadmium in chip resistors and semiconductors are poisonous and can lead to cancer. Chromium in floppy disks, lead in batteries and computer monitors and mercury in alkaline batteries and fluorescent lamps also pose severe health risks.
The author (Mike Mcphate, 2004) writes about the patients suffering from problems such as bleeding from the throat and breathlessness, lung ailments including asthma, bronchitis and chronic lung infections, relating these to e-waste recycling methods used, burning of wires and handling of green circuit boards such as the task of recovering copper from printed circuit boards (PCBs). The author also shows the concern to the use of a brew of nitric acid, a toxic substance during the recycling process that releases copper as well as cancer-causing lead and mercury.
According to (Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, 2007), plastics used to house computer equipment and cover wire cables to prevent flammability often contain poly-brominates flame retardants, a class of dangerous chemicals. Studies have shown that ingesting these substances may increase the risk of cancer, liver damage, and immune system dysfunction. The chemicals contained in e-waste are a cocktail of dangerous pollutants that kill both the environment and humans slowly. The recycling units are mostly in the residential areas, where children play with trash. This can lead to further health hazards.
The example, as in (Andrew Pollack, 1984), specifies – As batteries have become smaller, especially with the introduction of button-shaped versions, infants have started swallowing them. A swallowed battery can burn holes in the intestines and cause inflammations.

It is not that there is no solution for this problem. There are various articles such as (, 2007), where the authors give suggestions to keep a check on this seemingly uncontrolled problem of recycling. However, to give importance to such ideas and to implement these, there is a need to understand the health hazards of this unwatched process of recycling. There is also the need of bringing health awareness to masses regarding this issue. As this recycling industry contributes to the economics of the country, the need is also to study the health impacts and to relate these directly to the recycling process. Such studies will not only help in designing controlled, supervised and monitored processed of recycling e-waste but will also help in cautious reduction of e-waste.

The research conducted by (Xia Huo et. Al, 2007) found that the lead contamination from e-waste processing appears to have reached the level considered to be a serious threat to children’s health around the e-waste recycling area, and that the elevated Blood Lead Levels in Guiyu children are common as a result of exposure to lead contamination caused by primitive e-waste recycling activities. Another important research, (Annao. W. Leung et. Al, 2007), is the human health risk assessment study conducted concerning dust exposure at an uncontrolled e-waste recycling site and the results can serve as a case study for similar e-waste activities in countries such as Africa, India, and Vietnam where e-waste is becoming a growing problem. COEH, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health is also involved in e-Waste management research projects and claims to be the only such center out of the 240 Medical Colleges in India (T. K. Joshi and Neeraj Gupta, 2008).

In recent years, some U.S. hospitals have taken proactive measures to not only minimize or eliminate the impact of hazardous e-waste on their nation’s environment, but also for saving the valuable dollars as well.
One such hospital (Premier, 2009) in New England, Hartford, CT-based Saint Francis Care entered into an agreement with WeRecycle!, in 2005. The combined effort was not to allow hazardous e-waste to be sent to solid waste landfills, incinerators, prison recycling operations or developing countries.
In India, it is needed that hospitals should get involved in such life saving initiatives for people of India and the ‘Mother Earth’.
Hospitals in India can come up with different initiatives to help in this regard, such as
• To conduct the public health awareness programs on dangers of uncontrolled e-waste recycling.
• To find the impact on health on people working in E-waste recycling units in India.
• To find the impact on health on people living near the E-waste recycling units in India, specially the pregnant women and children.
• To relate to specific health problems and their increase to e-waste recycling issues.
In paper (Violet N. Pinto, 2009), the table 1, specifies E-Waste Component, the process needed for dismantling, the related potential occupational and environmental hazards. Such studies should be used by the hospitals to create mass awareness. The hospitals can take the initiatives of keeping a check or recording the patient’s health history if it is suspected to be related to E-Waste mismanagement. The hospitals can also further publish reports, based on such recordings for making the government alert on the increase of health problems of people in a given location, which is suspected to be related to E-waste.

Hospitals in India can provide a real measure of problem severity, may it be the rate of increase of stress and suicides, the criminal offences, the domestic fights, even the impact of mosquito-bites. However, this is only possible if hospitals play a pro-active role in monitoring, recording and analysis of factors related to life and death, even those that are seemingly not directed related to the diagnostics and treatments. Hospitals’ role play had been considered related to E-Waste Management only to the extent of hospital or bio-waste management. However, as the sufferers of the E-Waste recycling processes also come to the hospitals for treatment, the track of recycling processes, impacts, health hazard and possible treatments can be kept easily by hospitals.

(Hospitals’ initiatives and Projects/ Collaborations)

• Check on the health hazards related to E-Waste Recycling
• Recording Cause and Impact on Patient’s health.
• Keeping Track of such patient’s occupational processes and habits.
• Recording the number of similar cases in the locality.
• Research Analysis on treatments and improvements.
• Public Awareness Schemes.
• Reports Publications.

Figure 1: A Health Monitoring Framework

This paper has presented the areas of Health Monitoring System, which can be further elaborated and embedded in the daily processes of hospitals. The E-waste Management Systems with health monitoring frameworks can lead to results in only the health improvement of patients but also in public thought and views related to E-waste recycling.

The authors are grateful to Fausta Research and Development Pvt. Ltd, Faridabad, for making of ‘Fausta Research Community’, to motivate research collaborations between researchers and multi-disciplinary organizations, and initiating the IT and healthcare projects.

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