Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Oct 9;18(20):10580. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182010580.
The informal recycling of electronic waste (“e-waste”) is a lucrative business for workers in low- and middle-income countries across the globe. Workers dismantle e-waste to recover valuable materials that can be sold for income. However, workers expose themselves and the surrounding environment to hazardous agents during the process, including toxic metals like lead (Pb). To assess which tools, tasks, and job characteristics result in higher concentrations of urine and blood lead levels among workers, ten random samples of 2 min video clips were analyzed per participant from video recordings of workers at e-waste recycling sites in Thailand and Chile to enumerate potential predictors of lead burden. Blood and urine samples were collected from participants to measure lead concentration. Boosted regression trees (BRTs) were run to determine the relative importance of video-derived work variables and demographics, and their relationship with the urine and blood concentrations. Of 45 variables considered, five job characteristics consisting of close-toed shoes (relative importance of 43.9%), the use of blunt striking instruments (14%), bending the back (5.7%), dismantling random parts (4.4%), and bending the neck (3.5%) were observed to be the most important predictors of urinary Pb levels. A further five job characteristics, including lifting objects <20 lbs. (6.2%), the use of screwdrivers (4.2%), the use of pliers/scissors (4.2%), repetitive arm motion (3.3%), and lifting objects >20 pounds (3.2%) were observed to be among the most important factors of blood Pb levels. Overall, our findings indicate ten job characteristics that may strongly influence Pb levels in e-waste recycling workers’ urine and blood.