E-Waste Informal Recycling: An Growing Source of Lead Exposure in South America

Posted on November 24, 2016 • Filed under: Crime, Latin America Health

Antonio Pascale, MD
, Adriana Sosa, MD
, Cristina Bares, PhD
, Alejandra Battocletti, MD
, María José Moll, MD
, Darío Pose, MD
, Amalia Laborde, MD
, Hugo González, Lic. in Geol.
, Gabriella Feola, MSc

Primitive electronic waste (e-waste) recycling creates exposures to several hazardous substances including lead. In Uruguay, primitive recycling procedures are a significant source of lead exposure.

The aim of this study was to examine lead exposure in blood lead levels (BLLs) in low-income children exposed to lead through burning cables.

A sample of children and adolescents exposed to lead through burning cable activities were assessed at the Department of Toxicology in Montevideo, Uruguay, between 2010 and 2014. Soil lead levels of residences were taken shortly after their assessment.

The final sample included 69 children and adolescents (mean age 7.89 years). More than 66% of participants had an additional source of lead exposure—manual gathering of metals—and <5% were exposed to lead through landfills or paint. Average BLLs at first consultation were 9.19 ug/dL and lower at the second measurement (5.86 μg/dL). Data from soil lead levels ranged from 650 to 19,000 mg of lead/kg of soil. The interventions conducted after the assessment included family education in the clinic and at home, indoor and outdoor remediation. We found a decrease in BLLs of 6.96 μg/dL. Older children had lower BLLs (r = −0.24; P = 0.05). Statistical analyses also showed that children living in areas with higher soil lead levels had significantly higher BLLs (r = 0.50; P < 0.01). Additionally, we found greater BLLs from burning cable activities when children had been exposed to lead-based paint (r = 0.23; P < 0.1). Conclusion Among children exposed to e-waste recycling, the most common additional source of lead exposure was the manual gathering of metals. The average BLL among children and adolescents in this study is higher than the BLLs currently suggested in medical intervention. Future research should focus on exploring effective interventions to reduce lead exposure among this vulnerable group. Read Article

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