Metal Levels, Genetic Instability, and Renal Markers in Electronic Waste Workers in Thailand

Richard L Neitzel, Stephanie K Sayler, Aubrey L Arain, Kowit Nambunmee


Background: Informal electronic waste (e-waste) recycling is an increasingly important industry worldwide. However, few studies have studied the health risks in this group of workers.

Objective: To assess the associations between occupational exposures to metals and genetic instability and renal markers among e-waste recycling workers.

Methods: We recruited informal e-waste recycling workers from a community in northeastern Thailand. Participants completed a questionnaire, several health measurements, and provided urine and blood samples, which we then analyzed for a number of metals including lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), and manganese (Mn). Samples were analyzed for a marker of RNA and DNA damage (ie, oxidative stress), 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG). Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and fractional excretion of calcium (FECa%) were measured as markers of renal function. Correlations and regression models were used to assess associations between these various factors.

Results: We found significantly higher levels of Cd and Pb in blood of men compared with those in women. Men who worked >48 hours/week had significantly higher levels of 8-OHdG compared with men who worked ≤48 hours/week. Smoking was significantly associated with higher blood Pb and Cd concentrations among men.

Conclusion: Our results suggest gender differences in both blood concentrations of metals associated with e-waste recycling and smoking and highlight potentially elevated oxidative stress associated with longer work hours. Health promotion efforts are needed among informal e-waste recyclers to reduce possible risks of renal damage and cancer.


Electronic waste; Oxidative stress; Thailand; Renal insufficiency; Heavy metal poisoning

doi: 10.34172/ijoem.2020.1826

 pISSN: 2008-6520
 eISSN: 2008-6814

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