ISSN: 2393-9508
e-ISSN: 2582-4902

The Biobrio 10(3 & 4), 2023

Mercury in e-waste: Environmental and human health hazards

Sonam Bharti & Ishita Bhattacharya


The generation and accumulation of electric and electronic wastes (e-waste) is increasing worldwide due to the high demand of information technology in every aspect of life. However, the recycling industries are very active in their business; still, there also exists an informal recycling industry which are collecting the e-wastes in an eco-unfriendly manner. As a result, causing environmental and health hazards simultaneously. The present study is focused towards the mercury present in the e-waste and hazards to the environment and human related to this heavy metal. E-waste like spent batteries, mercury vapor and fluorescent lamps, switches, dental amalgams, measuring devices, control instruments, and laboratory and electrolytic refining wastes contains mercury or mercury compounds. This mercury is released into the environment because of the improper processing methods of the informal sectors. In addition, the recyclers themselves face the maximum possibility of mercury exposure. According to a recent report, establishment of these informal recycling complexes are prominent in the slum areas, such as such as Dharavi in Mumbai where hygiene and living conditions of the dwellers and workers are poor. Obsolete electrical and electronic equipment's containing mercury, such as fluorescent lamps, computers and TV sets are the primary focus of the informal collectors in developing countries in terms of earnings. Mercury containing appliances are collected by local collectors throughout a country and ultimately, sent to such recyclers for further processing in compilation with other wastes. Fluorescent lamps, for example, are processed for reuse in a very crude manner because of the lack of awareness and the lack of a separation collection system. Such e-waste ends up at landfill sites or is treated by incinerators (open burning). As a consequence, the mercury in the waste is released in the environment and mercury pollution is suspected around those sites because of mercury emission from the electrical and electronic equipment. Mercury emission can cause air as well as water pollution. The mercury vapour inhaled by an individual will develop an asthma and lung cancer to its extreme. On the other hand, when the mercury is contaminating the ground water followed by ponds and rivers, it gets converted to methyl mercury (an organic form of mercury). The methyl mercury is a very toxic compound and it enters the food chain through the fish and gradually to birds and human beings. The mercury contamination in the environment can be curbed by different strategies. Firstly, the informal and illegal e-waste collection and recycling should be stopped through the development of a public-private partnership under a legal framework and investment in environmentally sound technologies. Secondly, awareness development programs should be launched. Finally, development and investment in research projects that are working on demercurization of soil or water through chemical and microbial route.


Mercury; e-waste; health hazards

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