Scientists from China and Oregon State University have identified toxic elements in the emissions from cottage-industry recycling workshops in southern China that use low-tech methods to separate reusable electronic components from circuit boards, a university release said Thursday.
Their study was conducted in Shantou City, population 150,000, in southern China's Guangdong province.
They collected samples as workers were removing the electronic components by heating the circuit boards over grills on stoves burning coal briquettes.
In this "roasting process," researchers found numerous organic chemicals, heavy metals, flame retardants and persistent organic pollutants being emitted into the air via the smoke.
"The most immediate problem is the health of the workers and the people who live in the city," Bernd R.T. Simoneit, OSU professor and one of the authors of the study, said. "But this may also be contributing to global contamination. For example, previous studies have found carcinogens in wind-carried dust from Asia.
"The next step is to see to what extent this is harming the environment and creating a health hazard for both the workers, and people living in the path of the emissions," Simoneit said. "Some of these chemical compounds may be carcinogens; others may be just as harmful because they can act as 'environmental disruptors' and may affect body processes from reproduction to endocrine function."