UNU and WHO release findings from first ever global survey on e-waste’s impact on child health

27.02.2014

In an effort to collect more information about the growing problem of e-waste and its effects on children’s health, the United Nations University (UNU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) partnered to create the first global survey investigating the impacts of e-waste recycling on child health. The results of the survey are now available in a detailed report by Federico Magalini and Ruediger Kuehr of the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace SCYCLE Operating Unit. One hundred and thirty-nine epidemiologists, toxicologists, child health experts, industry representatives, non-governmental organisations representatives and policy makers responded to the online questionnaire. The survey gauged respondents’ knowledge about various discarded electronic and electrical equipment items and the efficacy of protective devices, and respondents were able to share their own work related to e-waste management and developmental health. Some key findings include:
  • Responses indicated a knowledge gap between dangerous toxins and the e-waste products that contain them. For example, respondents rated Mercury as the most dangerous substance to human health, but they did not rate energy saving lamps— one of the main sources of mercury in e-waste—as an equally dangerous category of e-waste.
  • Though e-waste disassembly generally involves simple tools like hammers, screwdrivers or cutters, a high number of respondents indicated that burning and chemical extraction, the main sources of environmental contamination in disassembly, are the main techniques used.
  • The majority of all projects that focus on e-waste take place in Asia and Africa, though the organisations running the programs are mostly based in Asia and Europe. Most of these projects focus on the policy, rather than on risk or exposure assessments.
  • Of respondents’ e-waste projects focusing on child health, health outcomes studied vary widely from chemical burns to cancer to growth retardation.
The survey highlighted the need for global action to tackle health issues related to e-waste management. These efforts, led by WHO, should complement existing activities of other organisations, to use and build on the expertise of complementary disciplines. This will ensure a holistic approach, taking into account the challenges of proper e-waste management in different regions of the world. Furthermore, survey respondents support the approach, as nearly 90 per cent of them indicated intrest in joining a WHO network on e-waste exposure and children’s health. The WHO e-waste specific website can be found at http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/ewaste/en/ A link to the full report can be found here.

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