76% of e-waste workers suffer from respiratory ailments: Assocham

Our Bureau Ahmedabad | Updated on January 24, 2018

Of the total e-waste generated in India, nearly 1.5 per cent is recycled by formal recyclers or institutional processing and recycling.

About 76% of electronic-waste workers in India suffer from respiratory ailments like breathing difficulties, irritation, coughing and choking due to improper safeguards at dismantling workshops, an Assocham study, coinciding with the “Environment Day on June 5 has noted.

Many of these workers are children and they become incapable of working by the time they reach 35 to 40 years of age.

All recyclers and dismantlers are suffering from breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis and have a detrimental effect on the respiratory, urinary and digestive systems, besides crippling immunity and causing cancer, according to a study on ‘Electronic Waste Management in India,’ conducted by apex business body, The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).

Top e-waste generators

Even as the Government of India’s “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” aims to mobilize masses and seeks to create a clean India, there are 10 States that contribute 70 per cent of the total e-waste generated in the country, while 65 cities generate more than 60 per cent of the total e-waste in India. Among the eight largest e-waste generating states are Maharashtra Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka and West Bengal, in that order.

The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 71 per cent of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 16 per cent, the rest being contributed by manufacturers. Though individual households are not large contributors to waste generated by computers, they consume large quantities of consumer durables and are, therefore, potential creators of waste, reveals the study.

Unorganised sector

For the recycling of e-waste, India heavily depends on the unorganized sector as only a handful of organized e-waste recycling facilities are available. Over 95% of the e-waste is treated and processed in the majority of urban slums of the country, where untrained workers carry out the dangerous procedures without personal protective equipment, which are detrimental not only to their health but also to the environment, said D S Rawat, Secretary-General, Assocham.

E-waste typically includes discarded computer monitors, motherboards, Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT), Printed Circuit Board (PCB), mobile phones and chargers, compact discs, headphones, white goods such as Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD)/ plasma televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators and so on. With increasing use of these in our everyday life, e-waste is also piling up.

Of the total e-waste generated in India, nearly 1.5 per cent is recycled by formal recyclers or institutional processing and recycling. Another 8.0 percent of the e-waste generated is rendered useless and goes to landfills. The remaining 90.5 percent of the e-waste is being handled by the informal sector.

E-waste accounts for 40 per cent of the lead and 70 per cent of heavy metals found in landfills, that lead to ground water, air pollution and soil acidification. High and prolonged exposure to these chemicals/ pollutants emitted during unsafe e-waste recycling leads to damage of nervous systems, blood systems, kidneys and brain development, respiratory disorders, skin disorders, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart, liver, and spleen damage.

Risk factors

The biggest e-waste recycling market in India is Delhi where around 40 per cent of the e-waste in India lands. Bangalore and Chennai are the next big e-waste markets. Chennai is the fourth largest e-waste generating city and approximately five tonnes of e-waste is generated every day in the Chennai Metropolitan area.

Dr. B K Rao, Chairman of Assocham Health Committee, said computers, televisions and mobile phones are the “most dangerous” because they have high levels of lead, mercury and cadmium -- and they have short life-spans so are discarded more. In the last ten years, about 83.5% increase was witnessed in the sales of domestic household appliances, both large and small all over the world.

Electronic equipment contain many hazardous metallic contaminants such as lead, cadmium, and beryllium and brominated flame-retardants. The fraction including iron, copper, aluminum, gold, and other metals in e-waste is over 60%, while plastics account for about 30% and the hazardous pollutants comprise only about 2.70%.

E-waste has been linked to risk factors for cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer. Despite stringent law to regulate e-waste trade, destitute children in India still face hazards dismantling old computers, TV etc.

Published on June 03, 2015

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