E-Waste Management in the United States and Public Health Implications

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Journal of Environmental Health




Electronic waste (e-waste) generation is increasing worldwide, and its management becomes a significant challenge because of the many toxicants present in electronic devices. The U.S. is a major producer of e-waste, although its management practice and policy regulation are not sufficient to meet the challenge. We reviewed e-waste generation, current management practices and trends, policy challenges, potential health impact, and toxicant exposure prevention in the U.S. A large amount of toxic metals, flame retardants, and other persistent organic pollutants exist in e-waste or can be released from the disposal of e-waste (e.g., landfill, incineration, recycling). Landfill is still a major method used to dispose of obsolete electronic devices, and only about half of the states have initiated a landfill ban for e-waste. Recycling of e-waste is an increasing trend in the past few years. There is potential, however, for workers to be exposed to a mixture of toxicants in e-waste and these exposures should be curtailed. Perspectives and recommendations are provided regarding managing e-waste in the U.S. to protect public health, including enacting federal legislation, discontinuing landfill disposal, protecting workers in recycling facilities from toxicant exposure, reducing toxicant release into the environment, and raising awareness of this growing environmental health issue among the public.