Residents of a Chinese region where 80 percent of families include workers who dismantle and recycle electronic devices have high concentrations of flame-retardant chemicals in their blood, researchers report. Inhabitants of a fishing village not far away also carried elevated amounts of the chemicals, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
Much of the world's electronic waste ends up in China, where most handlers of the materials work without protective gear. They smash the components and strip out metals, releasing dust laden with deca-BDE, a flame retardant commonly added to plastic components.
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