Residents near Chinese e-waste site face greater cancer risk

January 22, 2013
OSU professor Staci Simonich
Chemist Staci Simonich examines a vial containing air pollutants at her lab at Oregon State University. (Photo by Tiffany Woods)

Residents living near an e-waste recycling site in China face elevated risks of lung cancer, according to a recent study co-authored by Oregon State University researchers.

Electronic trash, such as cell phones, computers and TVs, is often collected in dumps in developing countries and crudely incinerated to recover precious metals, including silver, gold, palladium and copper. The process is often primitive, releasing fumes with a range of toxic substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a group of more than 100 chemicals.

PAHs, many of which are recognized as carcinogenic and linked to lung cancer when inhaled, were the focus of the study. Over the course of a year, researchers collected air samples from two rooftops in two areas in China. One was in a rural village in the southern province of Guangdong less than a mile from an active e-waste burning site and not surrounded by any industry. The other was Guangzhou, a city heavily polluted by industry, vehicles and power plants but not e-waste.

The scientists concluded that those living in the e-waste village are 1.6 times more likely to develop cancer from inhalation than their urban-dwelling peers.

“In the village, people were recycling waste in their yards and homes, using utensils and pots to melt down circuit boards and reclaim metals,” said Staci Simonich, a co-author of the study and a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at OSU. “There was likely exposure through breathing, skin and food – including an intimate connection between e-waste and the growing of vegetables, raising of chickens and catching of fish.”

The researchers estimated that of each million people in the e-waste area, 15 to 1,200 would develop lung cancer on account of PAHs over their lifetimes, while the likelihood in the city is slightly lower at 9 to 737 per million. These approximations do not include lung cancer caused by smoking.

The study also found that the level of airborne carcinogenic PAHs exceeded China’s air quality standards 98 percent of the time in the e-waste area and 93 percent of the time in the city.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The OSU Superfund Research Program provided assistance for the study. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided funding for the study.

Eight researchers collaborated on the project, including OSU graduate student Leah Gonzales and scientists from China.

Source: Staci Simonich

Undergraduate Research Funding Opportunity: The Research Office is now accepting applications for the Undergraduate Research, Innovation, Scholarship and Creativity (URISC) program for Summer term 2012-13. This program supports undergraduate research activities from all academic disciplines within the University. Program description and application: Information: Debbie Delmore at Submission Deadline: Feb. 25.

At its December meeting, the OUS Provost’s Council approved OSU’s proposal to offer a Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching. The certificate program will be effective Fall 2012.

This 18-credit hour graduate certificate is designed to provide advanced coursework and experiential learning opportunities to current OSU graduate students who plan to pursue careers in teaching and instruction in higher education settings or who plan to pursue careers that require similar skill sets in facilitation.  While seeking their respective degrees, OSU graduate students can now earn a credential that certifies their teaching and facilitation skills and thus confers advantage in competitive hiring environments. This certificate program is an important investment in the quality of undergraduate instruction at OSU as well as in the future of the teaching professoriate. Congratulations to all who developed and reviewed this proposal.

For more information, contact Dr. Brenda McComb, Dean of the Graduate School at

The Division of International Programs is pleased to announce the launch of the Faculty Internationalization Grants, a re-designed and expanded version of the IP Faculty Grants. This initiative is part of our ongoing efforts to support OSU’s internationalization agenda, which includes recruitment and retention of diverse international students, developing and supporting education abroad opportunities for OSU’s domestic students, promoting global learning through curricular and co-curricular means, and fostering strategic international partnerships to promote faculty research and outreach activities.

Faculty Internationalization Grants are designed to encourage and support OSU faculty who are working to further OSU’s internationalization efforts as well their own professional involvement in activities that enhance our teaching, research and engagement with topics and colleagues beyond the U.S.

Grants of up to $2,500 are available to OSU faculty to help promote international research, partnership, and collaboration. The applicant’s unit is expected to share the cost of this investment to promote internationalization across the University. Awards will be made on an on-going basis and there is no deadline.

Please see the links below to learn more about Faculty Internationalization Grants and to submit an online application.

Description and Award Criteria ( )

Online Application ( )

If you have questions about this program, please contact Charlotte Moats-Gallagher [541.737.6406,].


Sunil Khanna

Associate Provost for International Programs


We all know that water is essential to life.  With energy from the sun, water is converted to the food that we eat and the oxygen that we breathe by the chemical factories that we call plants.  But, did you know that water chemistries are being developed to provide industrial factories with new ways to make electronic gadgets like smartphones and solar cells?  Such developments are enabling a transformational approach to environmentally responsible manufacturing.  Come explore how we turn rocks into computers and how the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry is contributing to a clean and sustainable future through chemistry.

DOUGLAS KESZLER is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, a multi-institutional Phase-II Center for Chemical Innovation sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.  His research focuses on the discovery and development of new compositions of matter and their integration into new electronic and energy devices.

STEM Academy AWSEM (Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering, and Math) Clubs for 6th-12th grade girls: Middle School Club meets Tuesdays, 5 to 6:30 p.m., from Jan. 22 to Feb. 26. High School Club meets Wednesdays, 5 to 6:30 pm, from Jan. 23 to Feb. 27. Topics include mapping, chemistry, food science and more. Undergraduate women studying science and engineering will lead and be mentors for the clubs. To register: For questions, call 541-737-8139 or email Cost is $75. Scholarships available.

URSA-ENGAGE: The Office of Undergraduate Research is seeking research project proposals from OSU faculty willing to serve as mentors for undergraduate researchers in a new research program called URSA-ENGAGE. Information for Faculty and Faculty Application: Contact: Kevin Ahern at Deadline for Faculty Research Project Proposal Application: Jan. 18.

Blue pigment: At the Jan. 10 meeting of Triad, OSU’s faculty and staff club, Mas Subramanian, professor of chemistry, will discuss his lab’s new blue pigment that has drawn interest for sustainability purposes. Triad meets in the MU, room 109A, from noon to 1 p.m. Guests are welcome to attend free of charge and pay $11 if they have lunch. Contact Nick Houtman, 541-737-0783, to save a seat.

Dear Colleagues:
> We invite you to participate in this year’s Oregon Academy of Science
> (OAS) meeting at Willamette University on Saturday, March 2, 2013.
> Researchers may present their work as a talk or a poster.  The talks
> are scheduled for about 20 minutes (~15 minutes followed by 5 minutes
> for questions).  Posters (~4 feet x 4 feet) will be displayed in
> common areas and participants will have an opportunity to view them
> during the session breaks and lunch.  The OAS meeting is a great
> opportunity for scientists, faculty and students at all levels to
> present work in progress and to practice for future presentations.  If
> you have any questions about the suitability of a potential
> presentation please feel free to discuss it with me.
> If you are planning to present at this year’s meeting please email an
> abstract submission form and a properly formatted abstract to me at
>  Guidelines for preparing your abstract are
> attached.  Please review your students submissions to ensure they
> followed the directions closely.  The deadline for receiving abstracts
> is February 8, 2013.  Please note that at least one of the authors of
> the presentation must be a member of OAS.
> The Registration form, meeting and membership dues should be mailed to
> the OAS Treasurer, Elizabeth J.O. Atkinson, OAS Treasurer and
> postmarked by February 8, 2013.  The registration and abstract
> submission forms can also be found on the OAS web page::
> This year the ACS Portland Local Section is sponsoring an additional
> session at the OAS meeting. We are promoting the submission of many
> more chemistry oral and poster presentations.  There will also be a
> session after lunch featuring a keynote talk on solar energy by Carl
> Wamser of PSU and a career forum with representatives from Portland
> area private and public sector employers. We are also inviting
> graduate programs  to send a representative for purposes of promoting
> their MS and PhD programs during the meeting. We have not decided on
> the format for graduate program promotion yet, but it might be
> recruiting tables in the poster session area and/or at the afternoon
> session. Of course we also encourage your undergraduate and graduate
> students to contribute papers. Warren Ford is organizing the afternoon
> session.
> Best Regards,
> Ted Picciotto
> OAS Section Co-chair
> Chemistry Instructor
> Portland Community College
> 12000 49th Ave,
> Portland, OR 97219
> (971)722-8290