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Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2009 May;16(3):329-38. doi: 10.1007/s11356-008-0087-z. Epub 2008 Dec 9.

Chromosomal aberrations and DNA damage in human populations exposed to the processing of electronics waste.

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Institute of Radiation Medicine, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College, Tianjin Key Laboratory of Molecular Nuclear Medicine, 238, Baidi Road, 300192, Tianjin, People's Republic of China.



It has been known that the pollutants of electronic wastes (E-wastes) can lead to severe pollution to the environment. It has been reported that about 50% to 80% of E-wastes from developed countries are exported to Asia and Africa. It has become a major global environmental problem to deal with 'E-wastes'. E-waste recycling has remained primitive in Jinghai, China. This not only produces enormous environmental pollution but also can bring about toxic or genotoxic effects on the human body, threatening the health of both current residents and future generations living in the local environment. The concentration of lead in the blood of children in the E-waste polluted area in China is higher than that of the control area. But little is known about the cytogenetic effect to human beings caused by the pollution of E-wastes. In the present study, experiments have been performed to investigate the genetics of permanent residents of three villages with numerous E-waste disposal sites and to analyze the harmful effects of exposure to E-wastes.


In total, 171 villagers (exposed group) were randomly selected from permanent residents of three villages located in Jinghai County of Tianjin, China, where there has been massive disposal of E-wastes. Thirty villagers were selected from the neighboring towns without E-waste disposal sites to serve as controls. Chromosomal aberrations and cytokinesis blocking micronucleus were performed to detect the cytogenetic effect, dic + r (dicentric and ring chromosome), monomer, fragments (acentric fragments, minute chromosomes, and acentric rings), translocation, satellite, quadriradial, total aberrations, and micronuclear rate were scored for each subject. DNA damage was detected using comet assay; the DNA percentage in the comet tail (TDNA%), tail moment (TM), and Olive tail moment (OTM) were recorded to describe DNA damage to lymphocytes.


The total chromosome aberration rates (5.50%) and micronuclear rates (16.99%) of the exposure group were significantly higher than in the control group (P = 0.000). The percentage of DNA in the comet tail, tail moment, and Olive tail moment detected by comet assay showed that there was a significant difference in DNA damage in the exposure group (P = 0.000). The chromosome aberration, micronucleus rate, and DNA damage observed in women were significantly higher than those in men. Chromosome aberration and micronuclear rates of both smokers and non-smokers in the exposure group are obviously higher than that in the control group (P = 0.000).


The use of outdated (and unsafe) ways to deal with E-wastes can lead to exposure to a variety of substances harmful to human health. The components of pollution may enter the human body through the air, drinking water, and food chain to damage human genetic material, resulting in genomic instability. The rates of chromosomal aberration, micronucleus formation, and the degree of DNA damage in women in the group exposed to electronic waste were significantly higher than in men. The reason for this may be concerned with the traditional lifestyle of the local residents or the difference of sensitivity to the exposure to E-wastes or any others. Further investigations are needed to provide evidence to demonstrate this.


Here, we report the obviously cytogenetic toxicity to the exposure population by the E-waste pollution for the first time. E-waste pollution may be a potential agent of genetic mutation, and may induce cytogenetic damage within the general population exposed to the pollution. These findings need to be considered, and steps should be taken to protect the current population and future generations from the effects of pollution with E-wastes.


The above results remind us that the impact of E-waste recycling on environmental quality of Jinghai should be evaluated soon. Moreover, it is urgent for the government to prohibit E-waste import and its processing by outdated ways. The future studies such as pollutant details of drinking water, air, and soil in the area as well as epidemiological investigations on the harmful effect to children must be performed eagerly. All the data available do provide a compelling case for immediate action in both countries to address workplace health and safety and waste management.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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