Old computers and other e-waste contain hazardous substances.
Which computer components contain toxic substances?
Computer components contain toxic substances, so old computers and e-waste must be handled with care. Old computers must be recycled carefully inside the Netherlands, a policy that IT-recycling completely endorses.
We’re a business partner you can trust, which means computer waste is recycled responsibly in practice with respect for the environment and in accordance with legal requirements.
Treat computer waste carefully. Always dispose of it responsibly.
See below for information about some of the most obvious toxic substances in computer components. Note that this list is not exhaustive. To find out more about toxic substances in computer parts and computer waste, check out the BAN website. BAN is an organisation that draws attention to the dangers of exporting old computers and e-waste: www.ban.org.
Phthalates are PVC plasticizers that are used in various parts of computers. Over time, these substances are released from PVC into the environment. Depending on exposure, certain phthalates are associated with an increased risk of asthma, hay fever and eczema in children.
Animal studies have also indicated a link between phthalates and liver cancer.
Brominated flame retardants
Brominated flame retardants are ‘forever chemicals’ that do not degrade, but accumulate in the environment, animals and humans. They end up in water and sludge via discharges during production. Fish ingest these toxins, store them in their fatty tissue, then pass them on to us via the food chain. These toxic substances are also ingested directly through the leakage of small amounts from the products in which they’re incorporated.
Damage to neurological development
According to researchers, brominated flame retardants can mimic the action of the thyroid hormone. This hormone controls the brain development of foetuses. Brominated flame retardants can also disrupt motor development, cause memory and learning problems, and enhance the effect of carcinogenic chemicals.
There is strong evidence that these chemical fragrances mimic and disrupt sex hormones. They easily penetrate our skin through products such as perfume or aftershave.
Musks include galaxolide (HHCB), tonalide (AHTN), musk ambrette (MA), musk ketone (MK), musk tibetene (MT), musk xylene (MX), Traseolide (ATII), Celestolide (ADBI), Phantolide ( AHMI) and Cashmeran (DPMI).
The long-term effects of musk compounds on humans are largely unknown.
Since synthetic musks affect exactly the same hormone system that is disturbed by phthalates, they’re also likely to cause deformities in reproductive organs, deterioration of sperm quality, etc.
According to a study from 1999, frog reproduction was affected by products derived from the degradation of xylene musk and ketone musk. Long-term research has shown that high concentrations of xylene musk cause cancer in mice. Musk compounds dissolve easily in fat, so once released into the environment, they accumulate in the fatty tissue of fish and other aquatic organisms. Musks have been shown to inhibit the detoxification system of mussels, which is analogous to the immune system, leaving these organisms more sensitive to damage from toxic substances. Musks may also damage the immune system in other organisms and in humans.
Sex change in fish
Alkylphenols accumulate in the environment, and are particularly notorious for disrupting hormones. This has been mainly demonstrated in fish, and can lead to sex changes, such as feminisation. Tests on male fish by researchers revealed some cells that produced eggs. Alkylphenols can penetrate the placenta. They have been found in the umbilical cords of babies, and APEOs have been found in breast milk.
The harmful effects of alkyl phenols have been known for a long time, which is why the countries that signed the OSPAR convention (15 European countries and the EU) decided back in 1992 to ban its use in domestic cleaning agents from 1995, and industrial cleaning products from 2000. However, it remains unclear to what extent this decision has actually been implemented.
This is a group of organic compounds that contain tin, such as TBT and TPT. Even in small quantities, TBT causes adverse effects in humans and animals. Research has shown that it severely disrupts the hormone balance of shellfish, such as whelks. Organotin compounds increased the risk of miscarriages in rats. In England, researchers discovered that female purple snails developed penises in the presence of these substances.
Metals in computers
Computers also contain the following metals:
Long-term exposure to copper can cause irritation to the nose, mouth and eyes, and result in headaches, abdominal pain, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhoea. The ingestion of large quantities of copper can cause liver and kidney damage, and even be fatal. It hasn’t yet been established if copper is carcinogenic.
Aluminium ions can enter the body through various routes, such as during breathing, eating and drinking. Long-term exposure to high concentrations of aluminium ions can cause disorders of the nervous system, such as various forms of dementia, temporary or permanent memory loss, trembling, and listlessness.
Phosphorus (Si & P)
Increased concentrations of phosphorus in surface waters can stimulate the growth of phosphate-dependent organisms, such as algae and duckweed. These organisms consume large amounts of oxygen, and block sunlight from entering the water. This process, known as eutrophication, makes it impossible for other organisms in the water to survive.
Lead and lead compounds are known for being toxic and damaging to the environment. Lead (II) salts and organo-lead compounds are particularly toxic to the ecosystem. Lead salts and lead compounds such as lead acetate, lead oxide, lead nitrate and lead carbonate, are all classified as water hazard class 2 (WKG = Wassergefährdungsklasse), which means they’re dangerous in water.
Lead impedes the photosynthesis of plants. Although plants can tolerate relatively high lead concentrations in the soil of up to 500 ppm, growth is affected at higher concentrations. As a result, lead can end up in the food chain, which is why it’s prohibited in products such as pesticides.
Ingesting tin compounds can cause acute and long-term effects.
Acute effects include:
- Eye and skin irritations;
- Stomach ache;
- Nausea and dizziness;
- Heavy sweating;
- Urinary problems
Long-term effects include:
- Liver damage;
- Immune system problems;
- Damage to chromosomes;
- Red blood cell deficiency;
- Brain damage (resulting in anger, sleep disorders, amnesia and headaches).
Iron and Steel (Fe)
Iron can cause various diseases if it enters and remains in tissue.
Excessive chronic exposure to silver compounds in organs has been shown to cause damage to the kidneys, eyes, lungs, livers and brains
- of laboratory animals.
Excessive chronic exposure to silver or silver compounds can cause the following effects in humans:
- Cardiac arrhythmias;
- Permanent brain damage and damage to the nervous system;
- Stimulation of the effects of neurotoxins already present in the body, resulting in serious nerve damage.
Prolonged exposure or exposure to large quantities can cause irritation on inhalation.
- Ingestion: no effects.
- Skin: Can cause irritation and allergic reaction.
- Eyes: Can cause irritation.
Causes eye and skin irritation. Irritates mucous membranes and subsequent respiratory organs.
High dosages in rats have been shown to cause lesions in lungs.
Organo-mercury compounds, such as methylmercury, are much more harmful than metallic mercury. Prolonged exposure to low amounts of organo-mercury compounds (0.05 mg/day or more) can cause the following effects in adults:
- Blurred vision;
In the 1950s, Minamata disease was discovered in Japan. It was named after Minamata where the local population suffered mercury poisoning after eating fish that had been contaminated by waste. In 1972 and 1973, the same disease occurred in Iraq, when sufferers were admitted to hospital after eating grain contaminated with mercury compounds.
Mercury poses a hazard to foetuses if the mother is exposed to 0.05 mg of organo-mercury per day, and may result in children with mental retardation or learning difficulties. Mercury compounds can also cause genetic mutations. Known allergic reactions to mercury include fatigue, irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, and headaches.
By recycling these substances, you respect the environment and make sure the Netherlands is not contaminated for future generations.