Dangers of E-Waste

Mumbai has bagged the dubious distinction of generating the largest quantity of e-waste in the country. E-waste refers to all disposed electrical or electronic products and peripherals. These include computers, cell phones, fax machines, photocopiers and televisions.

E-waste is hazardous because it contains over 1,000 different substances, many of which are toxic and create serious pollution on disposal. Chief among these pollutants are lead, cadmium, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Lead is found in monitor cathode ray tubes, LCDs, solders, printed circuit boards and lead-acid batteries. Cadmium is found in some switches and solder joints, while its compounds are found in rechargeable batteries, UV stabilizers and older CRTs. Mercury is found in LCD lights, thermostats, sensors, switches, lamps, mobile phones and batteries.

Effects of these toxic substances

Lead builds up in body through repeated exposure and has irreversible effects on nervous system, particularly in children. Long term exposure to cadmium causes damage to kidneys and bone structure. Cadmium and its compounds are also known human carcinogens. PCBs cause suppression of the immune system, liver damage, cancer promotion, damage to nervous system, behavioural changes and damage to both male and female reproductive system. Mercury causes damage to various organs including brains and kidneys. Developing foetuses are at the highest risk.

Dangers of disposing

Throwing e-waste into land fills allows toxins to seep into groundwater. Incinerators emit toxic air pollutants, including dioxins. Recycling computers is only marginally profitable, so the industry can’t afford to take precautions to protect the environment and worker’s health.

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