E-Waste: Environmental and Health Hazards

E-waste includes old TVs

Discarded electronics contain hazardous materials. If disposed improperly, they pose a potential threat to human health and the environment. E-Waste accounts for 40 percent of the lead and 75 percent of the heavy metals found in landfills. Although safe when used, once electronics are discarded in a landfill, the acidic conditions provide an environment in which lead and other heavy metals may leak out. If the landfill's liner fails, the groundwater supply may become contaminated.

Learn more about the potentially hazardous elements found in computers:


  • Lead accumulates in the environment and has high acute and chronic toxic effects on plants, animals and microorganisms.
  • Lead is known to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood system and kidneys in humans.
  • Effects on the endocrine system have been observed, and serious negative effects on children's brain development are well documented.
  • Lead existing in landfilled products has the potential to leach and contaminate drinking water supplies.
  • Lead is found in soldering of printed circuit boards and other electronic components.
  • Lead is also found in glass panels in computer monitors (CRTs).
  • Visit EPA's website on Health and Environmental Impacts of Lead.

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  • Cadmium compounds are classified as toxic with a possible risk of irreversible effects on human health.
  • Cadmium and cadmium compounds accumulate in the human body, in particular in the kidneys.
  • Cadmium shows a danger of cumulative effects in the environment due to its acute and chronic toxicity.
  • It is found in certain components such as SMD chip resistors, infrared detectors and semiconductors.
  • Cadmium is found in older models of cathode ray tubes (glass panels in computer monitors) and in plastics as a stabilizer.

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  • Mercury has been shown to accumulate in living organisms and concentrate through the food chain, particularly in fish.
  • Negative effects on brain functioning and development have been attributed to mercury.
  • Mercury is found in:
    • Thermostats
    • Position censors
    • Relays and switches
    • Discharge lamps
    • Batteries
    • Printed wiring boards
  • Visit EPA's website on Mercury.

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Hexavalent Chromium

  • Chromium can cause strong allergic reactions, even in small concentrations.
  • It is found in untreated and galvanized steel plates.

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PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride Plastics)

  • The production and burning of PVC products generates dioxins and furans, which contribute to air pollution and respiratory ailments.
  • PVC is found in cabling and computer housing.

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Brominated Flame Retardants

  • Research has concluded that exposure to these chemicals in early life could induce neurotoxic effects similar to those caused by other toxic substances such as some pesticides.
  • Exposure to Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) are believed to cause an increased risk of cancer of the digestive and lymph systems.
  • PBBs are found in:
    • Printed circuit boards
    • Components such as connectors, plastic covers and cables
    • Plastic covers of TV sets

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DNR Contact DNR Contact
Theresa Stiner
Sue Johnson