The Lancet has an extensive news piece on how the recycling of old electronics in developing countries may be a serious neurological risk owing to the high levels of neurotoxic chemicals in modern electronics.
“The recycling of e-waste is big business in developing countries”, explains Javier Carod-Artal (Virgen de la Luz Hospital, Cuenca, Spain). “But many people are working without any kind of protection—most aren’t even aware of the potential risks. It’s a serious health threat.”
Carod-Artal explains that in its destination countries, e-waste is traded to individuals who recycle it in small workshops and sometimes even in their houses, locations in which ventilation is poor and little thought is given to the control of environmental contamination.
These individuals are exposed to many neurotoxicants during the extraction process. Lead, for example, has a low melting point, meaning that it evaporates quickly and can be inhaled quite easily when burning e-waste.
Many studies have shown that exposure to lead can adversely affect brain development, but electronic devices contain many more potential toxicants. For example, among as many as 40 different elements, a mobile phone can contain known neurotoxicants such as arsenic, cadmium, and chromium.
As many modern electronics also rely on conflict minerals, that is, essential elements minded from areas controlled by illegal armed groups, we can safely say that electronics manufacture is not the most person friendly practice in the world.
If you want more details you can read the entire Lancet article for free online although, annoyingly, you have to create an account with their website first.
Link to Lancet piece on neurotoxic e-waste.