PFAS use in electronic products and exposure risks during handling and processing of e-waste: A review

By Berrin Tansel
J Environ Manage
May 24, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.115291

Poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) have been and are used in electronic products due to their unique properties that improve product quality and performance. Ubiquities and persistence of some PFAS detected in environmental samples (water, soil, air) have attracted much attention and regulatory actions in recent years. This review provides an overview of PFAS use in electronic components; trends in quantities of e-waste generation; PFAS exposure pathways during e-waste handling and processing; reported PFAS in environmental samples and samples of serum, blood, and hair collected from people living near and working at e-waste processing sites. Processes used for manufacturing electronic components (e.g., embedded processes, additive manufacturing) make recycling or materials recovery from discarded electronic units and components very difficult and unfeasible. Exposure during numerous processing steps for materials recovery and scavenging at disposal sites can result in PFAS intake through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal routes. Chemical risk assessment approaches have been continuously evolving to consider chemical-specific dosimetric and mechanistic information. While the metabolic fate of PFAS is not well understood, some PFAS bioaccumulate and bind to proteins (but not to lipids) in biota and humans due to their surface-active characteristics and very low solubility in water and fat. It is difficult to associate the adverse health effects due to exposure to e-waste directly to PFAS as there are other factors that could contribute to the observed adverse effects. However, PFAS have been detected in the samples collected from different environmental compartments (e.g., water, soil, leachate, blood sera, rainwater) at and near e-waste processing sites, landfills, and near electronics and optoelectronics industries indicating that e-waste collection, processing, and disposal sites are potential PFAS exposure locations. Better monitoring of e-waste handling sites and detailed epidemiological studies for at risk populations are needed for assessing potential health risks due to PFAS exposure at these sites.

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