Investigation of exposure to flame retardants among electronic waste recycling workers

Status: complete


The goal of this study was to estimate the inhalation exposure of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling workers to “old” flame retardant chemicals (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs) and two groups of “newer” replacement flame retardant chemicals, namely halogenated and phosphorus flame retardant chemicals (HFRs and PFRs, respectively).


Managing e-waste is a growing challenge for communities, provinces and countries. According to Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES), there are 649 companies providing services to collect, transport, process, refurbish, reuse, consolidate and repackage e-waste in the province. In 2013 over 75,000 tonnes of e-waste was collected and processed in Ontario; roughly a 500% increase over amounts processed in 2009.

Results from exposure studies in e-waste recycling workplaces in low and middle income countries indicate that workers have very high levels of exposure to many hazardous substances, including flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, lead, arsenic, cadmium and chromium among others. In other workplace settings, these exposures have been associated with several occupational diseases including chronic respiratory disease, reproductive issues and cancer. Very little is known about flame retardant exposure levels in e-waste handling facilities in high income countries; prior to this research no studies had been conducted in Canada.


This study measured both halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) and phosphorus flame retardant (PFRs) in the air in an Ontario e-waste recycling facility. Results will describe the type of flame retardants the e-waste workers are exposed to and estimate the levels at which they are exposed.


Results from this project are described in the following publications:


To the best of our knowledge this is the first study to provide a detailed flame retardant exposure assessment for Canadian workers in an e-waste recycling facility. This information is critical for identifying areas for improved primary prevention, including the development of exposure reduction strategies.


This study was funded by a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Labour Research Opportunity Program:
Arrandale VH, Diamond ML, Venier M, Melymuk LE, Jantunen LM. Investigation of Exposure to Flame Retardants among Electronic Waste Recycling Workers. 2015-2018.

Research team:

Victoria H Arrandale (Occupational Cancer Research Centre, University of Toronto)
Miriam L Diamond (University of Toronto)
Marta Venier (Indiana University)
Lisa E Melymuk (RECETOX)
Liisa M Jantunen (Environment Canada)