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    Exposures to the toxic element mercury (Hg) are exceptionally high among recycling workers globally. Recycling is a growing sector in Colombia, yet workers who directly handle e-waste are often unaware of the risks of exposure to mercury from post-consumer lighting products (e.g., fluorescent lamps). This qualitative study aimed to understand how recycling workers perceive their own risks from mercury exposure and how they find information about these risks, through interviews (n = 35) at the three largest formal recycling facilities in Colombia. Workers' risk perception was generally disconnected from their likely actual exposure to mercury, instead often seen juxtaposed to co-workers who worked more directly with hazardous waste. Recycling workers, who were predominantly men from lower-income socioeconomic backgrounds, had limited knowledge of health risks due to mercury exposure and were more likely to receive health-related information from informal sources. Over a third of interviewees had searched online for information about occupational health risks of mercury, but these searches were perceived as unsatisfactory due to information being difficult to find, not available in Spanish, or related to mercury exposure via seafood or mining rather than recycling. Workers expressed (over)confidence in personal protective equipment and concern about frequent employee turnover. This study points to weaknesses in environmental health literacy and public health communication around toxic exposures to mercury in the workplace. Stronger regulation and enforcement are needed to prevent toxic exposures and promote worker health equity.


    Maria Jensen, David Andrés Combariza Bayona, Kam Sripada. Mercury Exposure among E-Waste Recycling Workers in Colombia: Perceptions of Safety, Risk, and Access to Health Information. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2021 Sep 03;18(17)

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    PMID: 34501885

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