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Risks of toxic ash from artisanal mining of discarded cellphones

  • Author(s): Hibbert, K
  • Ogunseitan, OA
  • et al.

The potential environmental and human health impacts of artisanal mining of electronic waste through open incineration were investigated. A market-representative set of cellphones was dismantled into four component categories-batteries, circuit boards, plastics and screens. The components were shredded, sieved and incinerated at 743-818°C. The concentrations of 17 metals were determined using U.S. EPA methods 6010C (inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry; 6020A (inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, or 7471B and 7470A (cold-vapor atomic absorption). EPA Method 8270 (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) was used to identify polyaromatic hydrocarbon compounds and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. EPA Method 8082A was used to measure polychlorinated biphenyls and EPA Method 8290 was used for dioxin/furans in the residue ash. The life cycle assessment model USEtox®was used to estimate impacts of the ash residue chemicals on human health and the ecosystem. Among metals, copper in printed circuit boards had the highest ecotoxicity impact (1610-1930PAFm3/kg); Beryllium in plastics had the highest impact on producing non-cancer diseases (0.14-0.44 cases/kg of ash); and Nickel had the largest impact on producing cancers (0.093-0.35 cases/kg of ash). Among organic chemicals, dioxins from incinerated batteries produced the largest ecotoxicological impact (1.07E-04 to 3.64E-04PAFm3/kg). Furans in incinerated batteries can generate the largest number of cancers and non-cancer diseases, representing 8.12E-09 to 2.28E-08 and 8.96E-10 and 2.52E-09 cases/kg of ash, respectively. The results reveal hazards of burning discarded cellphones to recover precious metals, and pinpoints opportunities for manufacturers to reduce toxic materials used in specific electronic components marketed globally. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.

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