Nicholas School Internship Blogs

E-Waste: A Growing Concern
by -- June 5th, 2012

My interest in flame-retardants piqued after hearing a lecture by Heather Stapleton at one of the first Ecotoxicology and Environmental Health (EEH) MP seminars. I was surprised to learn that several harmful flame-retardant chemicals, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), were lurking in the most inconspicuous of household products. They can be found in textiles, furniture, electronic goods such as televisions, cellphones, and fax machines, as well as in baby products and toys. In both Joel Meyer and Rich DiGuilio’s course ‘ENV. 212. Environmental Toxicology’ and Heather Stapleton’s ‘Chemical Fate of Organic Compounds’, the subject of electronic waste was discussed as a serious and growing environmental problem both domestically and globally. These discarded products contain not only flame-retardant chemicals, but heavy metals and metalloids like lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Furthermore, they have been shown to contaminate water sources, soil, house dust, and the air and can be found in human tissues like blood, hair, and breast milk. So set the stage for my quest to discover how the methods by which electronic waste (e-waste) is recycled affects environmental and human health.

In less than two weeks, I will be traveling over 8,000 miles across the Pacific to Hong Kong, China as a visiting research student at City University of Hong Kong in Kowloon. I will be conducting a market-basket survey of food items bought near e-waste sites and distributing a survey to those living nearby to understand how diet affects exposure to PBDE’s from e-waste.  It is because of the passion, dedication, and charisma of David Hinton, Nicholas School professor and program chair of the EEH program, that I have been afforded this opportunity. David has spent time at City University working alongside many notable environmental scientists like Margaret Murphy, Ph.D., an assistant professor and Paul Lam, Ph.D., Vice President and Chair Professor, both of whom have published work focusing on risk assessment, ecotoxicology, and the effects of persistent organic pollutants on wildlife. Many thanks to Heather Stapleton for helping direct my focus in this project and for assisting me with my survey. I look forward to sharing with all of you my experiences and discoveries over the next two months from Hong Kong.

Read more about E-waste in China here:

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1870162,00.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-4579229.html

2 Comments

  1. Paul
    Jun 8, 2012

    Ewaste is a growing problem. Exporting ewaste leads to pollution in third world countries because of lack of government oversight and control. US EPA released the R2 responsible recycling standard. When recycling electronics make sure to use an R2 Certified recycler in your state.
    http://www.glenviewgroup.com/r2

  2. Sue Smith
    Jul 2, 2012

    What a wonderful opportunity–I’m both fascinated by, and nervous about, what you’ll find. Good luck!

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