Your discarded gizmos can be a health hazard

By • Published: April 12th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Each year brings a slew of highly anticipated new digital products, including wireless phones, music players, computers, e-readers and fancy flat-screen televisions. And in the great circle of electronic life, every year millions of gizmos — many in perfect working order — are tossed into the trash.

Cast-off electronics are quickly forgotten, except as humorous memories of foot-long cell phones and other antiquities. But the health impact of such e-waste can persist long afterward.

That’s because improper disposal of e-waste can spread toxic chemicals into the air, water and food supply. Developing nations have become major e-waste dumping destinations, but many lack regulations regarding proper disposal. Dumping into landfills or burning in open melting facilities can lead to long-term health effects associated with repeated and ongoing exposure. Some of the chemicals are linked to problems such as cancer, disorders of various internal organs and fetal damage.

Donating instead of dumping old gadgets can help protect health in the long run. Many local and international programs accept and refurbish old electronics. Some e-cycled equipment goes to help people here and abroad, including schoolteachers and students. Organizations that provide social services for disadvantaged communities also welcome many of these items, as do doctors who use them to connect with patients in remote rural areas. Other organizations program old telephones to dial 911 only, and distribute them to women at risk of domestic abuse.

So next time you outgrow your favorite phone or other electronic device, think twice. To give your old tech toy new life, while helping others, visit the website of the Environmental Protection Agency for a list of suggested programs. Go to and type “recycle electronics” into the search box.