Common Harmful Substances in E-Waste

By: BJ Neller   /   November 10, 2016

One of the unintended consequences that have arisen from the technology boom of the past several decades has been the growing problem of e-waste. Electronic scrap from CPUs, computer monitors, printers, etc. are not only an eyesore in many landfills, but they also pose a hazard to the environment. The main reason for the threat they pose is because many electronic components contain hazardous materials. These substances need special handling when being disposed of or recycled. Some of the common toxins found in electronic devices include:


Chromium: This is a common element in electronics due to its ability to prevent corrosion and the increase conductivity of electrical impulses. One form of this element in particular (Chromium IV) can damage the body’s DNA and irritate the mucous membranes. Chromium is commonly found in data tapes and floppy disks.


Lead: CRT screens, batteries, printed wiring boards, etc. commonly contain this controversial metal. Lead exposure has long been shown to cause severe impairments in children and multisystem breakdown in adults. This is why people who buy older homes are warned about the lead content of the paint used in these structures.


Polyvinyl chloride: PVC plastics make up a whole plethora of electronic devices and computer accessories from keyboards to sound system speakers to cable insulation and electronics wiring. However, when incinerated, PVC can release chlorine gas. When this gas is mixed with water hydrochloric acid is formed which can lead to respiratory distress.


Americium 241: Smoke detectors and some medical equipment contain this element whose isotopes are both toxic and radioactive. For this reason there are rules in many jurisdictions governing the disposal of smoke detectors.


Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC): Used primarily in cooling units and insulation foam, CFCs have been known since the 70s to cause detrimental effects on the ozone layer.


Mercury: Another element well known to pose health risks, mercury is often used found in devices such as switches, thermostats, batteries and fluorescent lamps. 


Brominated flame-retardants: Found in most electronic devices, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are toxic and difficult to break down in the environment. Unfortunately, many landfills are a gateway to their introduction into the ecosystem.


There are just a few of the many toxins that are in most electronics. At Secure Waste Disposal, Inc., we expertly dispose of electronics that contain these dangerous elements and do so in accordance with all regulatory bodies. We feel that the environment is under enough stress. That is why we work with companies that are equally concerned with protecting the ecosystem and in complying with all hazardous e-waste disposal regulations.