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, 119 (4), 431-8

Developmental Neurotoxicants in E-Waste: An Emerging Health Concern


Developmental Neurotoxicants in E-Waste: An Emerging Health Concern

Aimin Chen et al. Environ Health Perspect.


Objective: Electronic waste (e-waste) has been an emerging environmental health issue in both developed and developing countries, but its current management practice may result in unintended developmental neurotoxicity in vulnerable populations. To provide updated information about the scope of the issue, presence of known and suspected neurotoxicants, toxicologic mechanisms, and current data gaps, we conducted this literature review.

Data sources: We reviewed original articles and review papers in PubMed and Web of Science regarding e-waste toxicants and their potential developmental neurotoxicity. We also searched published reports of intergovernmental and governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations on e-waste production and management practice.

Data extraction: We focused on the potential exposure to e-waste toxicants in vulnerable populations-that is, pregnant women and developing children-and neurodevelopmental outcomes. In addition, we summarize experimental evidence of developmental neurotoxicity and mechanisms.

Data synthesis: In developing countries where most informal and primitive e-waste recycling occurs, environmental exposure to lead, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is prevalent at high concentrations in pregnant women and young children. Developmental neurotoxicity is a serious concern in these regions, but human studies of adverse effects and potential mechanisms are scarce. The unprecedented mixture of exposure to heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants warrants further studies and necessitates effective pollution control measures.

Conclusions: Pregnant women and young children living close to informal e-waste recycling sites are at risk of possible perturbations of fetus and child neurodevelopment.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Estimated annual production of e-waste and major recycling sites. Estimates are from Robinson (2009), Davis and Herat (2010), and Cobbing (2008) and may not reflect current production. In addition, the estimates are not complete for many regions, for example, Japan, Russia, and Canada. The number of recycling sites is by no means complete but may represent major processing regions of e-waste.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Potential developmental neurotoxicants in e-waste and their adverse effects on neurodevelopment in children. Solid lines represent more-studied links; dashed lines suggest possible links.

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