E-Waste Really, Really Bad For Human Health

Next time you just toss that old computer monitor into the landfill or give it to some no name recycler who ships it to China, consider this. You may have heard that e-waste contains compounds and heavy metals that can negatively impact human health. Now, in some cheery news from the Institute of Physics, researchers have linked e-waste to both inflammation and oxidative stress, which are precursors to cardiovascular disease, DNA damage and possibly even cancer.

In a study published on Tuesday, May 31st, in IOP’s Environmental Research Letters, researchers took air samples from one of the largest e-waste recycling areas in China and took a look at their effects on the epithelial cells in the human lung. Researchers exposed these cultured lung cells to the organic-soluble and water-soluble constituents of the samples, then tested for the level of Interleukin-8 (IL-8), a key mediator of inflammatory response, and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), chemically reactive molecules that can cause extensive damage in excess.

E-Waste Dump China

image via Environmental Protection Agency

Samples were also tested for the expression of the p53 gene, which produces a protein to help counteract cell damage, as evidence of this gene being expressed is widely regarded as an indicator that cell damage is in progress.

Results reveled that exposure to these pollutants caused significant increases in both IL-8 and ROS levels; significant increases were also observed in the levels of the p53 protein.

The complete text of the study is available online.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.