Growing Threat of Electronic Waste Affecting Millions of Children Worldwide, WHO Warns | News | SDG Knowledge Center


Effective and binding action is needed to protect millions of children, adolescents and pregnant women, whose health is threatened by the informal treatment of discarded electrical or electronic devices, according to a report by the World Organization health (WHO).

The June 2021 report titled “Children and Digital Landfills” explains that millions of tons of toxic electronic waste are dumped each year, putting children’s health at risk. It indicates that more than 18 million children and adolescents, some of whom are only five years old, are engaged in the informal industrial sector, of which waste treatment is a sub-sector. Children are often engaged in recycling electronic waste because their little hands are more skillful than those of adults. Others live, go to school and play near electronic waste recycling centers where high levels of lead and mercury can damage their intellectual abilities. In addition, workers seeking to salvage materials such as copper and gold are at risk of exposure to over 1,000 harmful substances, including lead, mercury, nickel, brominated flame retardants and hydrocarbons. polycyclic aromatics.

Only 17.4% of electronic waste is recycled responsibly, while the rest is thrown away illegally, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the “electronic waste tsunami” deserves the same attention as protecting the ocean and its ecosystems from plastic and microplastic pollution.

The potential adverse effects of electronic waste on the health of unborn children can lead to, among others, stillbirths and premature births, as well as low birth weight and size. Other adverse health effects in children from e-waste include changes in lung function, respiratory and respiratory effects, DNA damage, altered thyroid function, and an increased risk of certain chronic diseases later in life. in life, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Many countries still do not recognize the mismanagement of electronic waste as a health problem.

The report calls on exporters, importers and governments to act to: ensure environmentally sound disposal of electronic waste and the health and safety of workers, their families and communities; monitor e-waste exposure and health effects; facilitate better reuse of materials; and encourage the manufacture of more sustainable electronic and electrical equipment. He also calls on the health community to:

  • strengthen the capacity of the health sector to diagnose, monitor and prevent toxic exposure in children and women;
  • raise awareness of the potential co-benefits of more responsible recycling;
  • working with affected communities; and
  • advocate for better health data and research on the health risks faced by informal e-waste workers.

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing household waste stream in the world. According to Global Partnership for Electronic Waste Statistics (GESP), a record 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste was produced worldwide in 2019, increasing by 21% in just five years. By 2050, the volume of electronic waste could exceed 120 million tonnes per year. This growth is expected to continue as the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices continues to increase, along with the obsolescence of older equipment. Currently, only 17.4% is recycled responsibly, while the rest is thrown away illegally, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries, where it is recycled by informal workers. Safe disposal of electronic waste is dangerous, complex and expensive. Some electronic waste ends up in regular trash cans, while significant amounts are shipped to low- and middle-income countries, often illegally.

WHO also highlighted Uruguay’s efforts to manage the harmful effects of electronic waste. Uruguay generates one of the highest rates of electronic waste per capita in Latin America. The Children’s Environmental Health Unit (UPA) of Montevideo works with city and government stakeholders and with communities, raising awareness and training health professionals to better diagnose and treat diseases related to factors of environmental risk. Also in Montevideo, some companies specialize in waste management and responsibly recycle electronic waste, while other projects facilitate the repair and reuse of personal computers to reduce the volume of electronic waste.

WHO is currently conducting pilot projects in Africa and Latin America to create frameworks for protecting children’s health from exposure to e-waste, which can then be adapted and replicated in different contexts and countries.

The report was produced with the input and support of the Electronic Waste Coalition, a group of 10 United Nations agencies and international organizations that seek to increase collaboration, build partnerships and provide support to Member States to address the challenge of e-waste. [Publication: Children and Digital Dumpsites] [WHO Initiative on E-waste and Child Health] [WHO Press Release on the Children and Digital Dumpsites Report [WHO Press Release on Uruguary]


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