How does e-waste affect the enviroment?

The processes of dismantling and disposing of electronic waste in the third world lead to a number of environmental impacts. Liquid and atmospheric releases end up in bodies of water, groundwater, soil, and air and therefore in land and sea animals – both domesticated and wild, in crops eaten by both animals and human, and in drinking water.

One study of environmental effects in Guiyu, China found the following:

Airborne dioxins one type found at 100 times levels previously measured.

Levels of carcinogens in duck ponds and rice paddies exceeded international standards for agricultural areas.

Cadmium, copper, nickel, and lead levels in rice paddies were above international standards

Heavy metals found in road dust  lead over 300 times that of a control village’s road dust and copper over 100 times.


The radioactive source in smoke alarms. It is known to be carcinogenic.


Found in fluorescent tubes (numerous applications), tilt switches (mechanical doorbells, thermostats), and flat screen monitors. Health effects include sensory impairment, dermatitis, memory loss, and muscle weakness. Exposure in-utero causes fetal deficits in motor function, attention and verbal domains. Environmental effects in animals include death, reduced fertility, and slower growth and development.


Found in lead-acid batteries. Health effects include liver damage, kidney damage, heart damage, eye and throat irritation. When released into the environment, it can create sulphuric acid.

Beryllium Oxide

Filler in some thermal interface materials such as thermal grease used on heatsinks for CPUs and power transistors, magnetrons, X-ray-transparent ceramic windows, heat transfer fins in vacuum tubes, and gas lasers.


Found in light-sensitive resistors, corrosion-resistant alloys for marine and aviation environments, and nickel-cadmium batteries. The most common form of cadmium is found in Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries. These batteries tend to contain between 6 and 18% cadmium. The sale of Nickel-Cadmium batteries has been banned in the European Union except for medical use. When not properly recycled it can leach into the soil, harming microorganisms and disrupting the soil ecosystem. Exposure is caused by proximity to hazardous waste sites and factories and workers in the metal refining industry. The inhalation of cadmium can cause severe damage to the lungs and is also known to cause kidney damage. Cadmium is also associated with deficits in cognition, learning, behavior, and neuromotor skills in children.


Solder, CRT monitor glass, lead-acid batteries, some formulations of PVC. A typical 15-inch cathode ray tube may contain 1.5 pounds of lead,[3] but other CRTs have been estimated as having up to 8 pounds of lead.[26] Adverse effects of lead exposure include impaired cognitive function, behavioral disturbances, attention deficits, hyperactivity, conduct problems and lower IQ

Hexavalent chromium:

A known carcinogen after occupational inhalation exposure.

There is also evidence of cytotixic and genotoxic effects of some chemicals, which have been shown to inhibit cell proliferation, cause cell membrane lesion, cause DNA single-strand breaks, and elevate Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) levels.

– DNA breaks can increase the likelihood of developing cancer (if the damage is to a tumor suppressor gene)

– DNA damages are a special problem in non-dividing or slowly dividing cells, where unrepaired damages will tend to accumulate over time. On the other hand, in rapidly dividing cells, unrepaired DNA damages that do not kill the cell by blocking replication will tend to cause replication errors and thus mutation

– Elevated Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) levels can cause damage to cell structures (oxidative stress)


Found in Non-stick cookware (PTFE), used as an antistatic additive in industrial applications, and found in electronics. PFOAs are formed synthetically through environmental degradation and, in mice, after oral uptake. Studies in mice have found the following health effects: Hepatotoxicity, developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity, hormonal effects and carcinogenic effects. Studies have found increased maternal PFOA levels to be associated with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) and stillbirth. Increased maternal levels of PFOA are also associated with decreases in mean gestational age (preterm birth), mean birth weight (low birth weight), mean birth length (small for gestational age), and mean APGAR score.