Elevated Blood Lead Levels of Children in Guiyu, an Electronic Waste Recycling Town in China

By Huo, Xia; Peng, Lin et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Elevated Blood Lead Levels of Children in Guiyu, an Electronic Waste Recycling Town in China


Huo, Xia, Peng, Lin, Xu, Xijin, Zheng, Liangkai, Qiu, Bo, Qi, Zongli, Zhang, Bao, Han, Dai, Piao, Zhongxian, Environmental Health Perspectives


BACKGROUND: Electronic waste (e-waste) recycling has remained primitive in Guiyu, China, and thus may contribute to the elevation of blood lead levels (BLLs) in children living in the local environment.

OBJECTIVES: We compared the BLLs in children living in the e-waste recycling town of Guiyu with those living in the neighboring town of Chendian.

METHODS: We observed the processing of e-waste recycling in Guiyu and studied BLLs in a cluster sample of 226 children < 6 years of age who lived in Guiyu and Chendian. BLLs were determined with atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Hemoglobin (Hgb) and physical indexes (height and weight, head and chest circumferences) were also measured.

RESULTS: BLLs in 165 children of Guiyu ranged from 4.40 to 32.67 [micro]g/dL with a mean of 15.3 [micro]g/dL, whereas BLLs in 61 children of Chendian were from 4.09 to 23.10 [micro]g/dL with a mean of 9.94 [micro]g/dL. Statistical analyses showed that children living in Guiyu had significantly higher BLLs compared with those living in Chendian (p<<0.01). Of children in Guiyu, 81.8% (135 of 165) had BLLs[greater than]10 [micro]g/dL, compared with 37.7% of children (23 of 61) in Chendian (p[greater than]0.01). In addition, we observed a significant increasing trend in BLLs with increasing age in Guiyu (p[greater than]0.01). It appeared that there was correlation between the BLLs in children and numbers of e-waste workshops. However, no significant difference in Hgb level or physical indexes was found between the two towns.

CONCLUSioNS: The primitive e-waste recycling activities may contribute to the elevated BLLs in children living in Guiyu.

KEY WORDS: children, China, environmental, e-waste, Guiyu, lead. Environ Health Perspect 115:1113-1117 (2007). doi:10.1289/ehp.9697 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 28 March 2007]

Disposal of electronic waste, or e-waste, is an emerging global environmental issue, as these wastes have become the most rapidly growing segment of the municipal waste stream in the world [Dahl 2002; Halluite et al. 2005; Jang and Townsend 2003; Schmidt 2002; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) 2001]. It is reported that approximately 500 million computers became obsolete between 1997 and 2007 in the United States (National Safety Council 1999). Up to 80% of e-waste from the United States has seeped into Asia and Africa (Johnson 2006; Puckett et al. 2002; Schmidt 2002, 2006; SVTC 2001). It is noteworthy that the United States is the only developed country today that has not ratified the United Nations Basel Convention, which bans the export of hazardous wastes to developing countries (United Nat ns Environment Programme 1992, 2006; USA Today 2002).

Together with New Delhi in India, Guiyu in Shantou, Guangdong Province, China (Figure 1), is one of the popular destinations of e-waste (Brigden et al. 2005; Puckett et al. 2002). Within a total area of 52 k[m.sup.2] and local population of 132,000 (in 2003), Guiyu has accommodated millions of tons of e-waste from overseas and domestic a year. Nearly 60-80% of families in the town have engaged in e-waste recycling operations conducted by small scale family-run workshops, with approximately 100,000 migrant workers employed in processing e-waste. Because the implementation of a clean and safe high-tech recovery process was very expensive (Allsopp et al. 2006), the processes and techniques used during the recycling activities in Guiyu were very primitive. The result was that many tons of e-waste material and process residues were dumped in workshops, yards, roadsides, open fields, irrigation canals, riverbanks, ponds, and rivers. Hazardous chemicals can be released from e-wastes through disposal or recycling processes, threatening the health of local residents. Several studies have reported the soaring levels of toxic heavy metals and organic contaminants in samples of dust, soil, river sediment, surface water, and groundwater of Guiyu (Brigden et al. …

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