The Global Impacts of E-waste Exposure and E-waste Recycling Policy on Maternal and Fetal Health (2019-2020)


Handling and disposal of discarded electrical or electronic equipment is frequently unregulated. E-waste contains hazardous constituents such as lead, mercury, chromium, chemicals in plastics and flame retardants. 

For example, Taizhou, located in the Jiangsu province of southern China, has been involved in e-waste recycling for more than 30 years, and is one of the largest e-waste processing centers worldwide. As much as 70% of the e-waste in the world used to come through China at one point, though in the past three years Chinese authorities have clamped down on the import of e-waste, coming at a time when domestic waste is rising rapidly. 

There is increasing concern about health effects related to contamination in air, soil and water for people working and living at or near informal e-waste processing sites, especially the most vulnerable populations, pregnant women and children. The rapidly increasing amount of e-waste and environmental policy changes make protecting human health and the environment from e-waste contamination an expanding challenge.

Project Description 

This Bass Connections project will research the global health effects of e-waste recycling on the Taizhou community through lab-based and community-based science. 

The team will accomplish this by: 

  1. Investigating the impacts of maternal e-waste exposure on placentation and relevant pregnancy complications 

  1. Evaluating fetal DNA methylation among e-waste exposed cohort and potential long-term health of the neonates 

  1. Exploring community knowledge and perception regarding e-waste recycling 

  1. Providing a forum or a course of project-based learning to engage students across learning levels and disciplines in discussions of environmental toxicology and global health. 

This project also aims to strengthen connections between Duke and global communities by working with Duke Kunshan University faculty members and local community partners to understand the environmental and health impacts of e-waste recycling and environmental policies. Team members will provide prevention strategies for women who work in e-waste recycling industries, address the global impacts of environmental policy changes toward e-waste recycling in China and formulate improved environmental policies. 

Anticipated Outputs 

Data regarding e-waste exposure and fetal DNA methylation; data regarding e-waste exposure and altered placentation and subsequent pregnancy complications; reports on birth outcomes and e-waste handling and exposure; policy evidence for Chinese governmental waste import ban; case studies for teaching at Duke and Duke Kunshan


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020 

  • Summer 2019 (Optional): Develop team charter and project for each research team; design social study; travel to China for site visit and sample collection; visit site for social study and public policy study; begin sample analysis 

  • Fall 2019: Conduct data analysis; begin report writing 

  • Spring 2020: Present draft project; draft manuscript


Christine Crute

Image: Guiyu e-waste, by Bert van Dijk 

Guiyu e-waste, by Bert van Dijk.

Team Leaders

  • Liping Feng, School of Medicine-Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Kathinka Furst, Duke Kunshan University
  • John Ji, Duke Kunshan University
  • Susan Murphy, School of Medicine-Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Conghuai Yan, Shanghai Jiaotong University
  • Junfeng (Jim) Zhang, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy

/graduate Team Members

  • Nadratun Chowdhury, Civil & Environmental Engg-PHD
  • Christine Crute, Environment-PHD, Art and Art History-AM
  • Yan Sun, Master of Environmental Management
  • Wanchen Xiong, Master of Environmental Management, Ecotoxicology & Environmental Health

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Ashley Choi, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Maya Iskandarani, Biology (BS)
  • Elizabeth Lamb, Biology (BS)
  • Julia Murphy
  • Kieu Pham, Biology (BS)
  • Aneesha Raj, Biology (BS), Global Health (AB2)
  • Amy Zhao, Biology (BS), Global Health (AB2)