PhD Research Project
United Kingdom
5d ago


Urbanisation and industrial activity in Africa is increasing rapidly including treatment of e-waste to recover valuable resources.

While many economic and environmental benefits from such activity exist, there are also risks. This project investigates human exposure to pollution from e-

waste treatment in Africa and enhances understanding of how its adverse environmental health impacts may be minimised while retaining its important economic benefits.

UNEP estimates 20-50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated globally every year. Consistent with the concept of the circular economy that waste is a resource rather than a problem, treatment of e-

waste to recover valuable resources like rare earth metals offers substantial economic and environmental benefits. However, evidence also reveals risks associated with e-

waste treatment. A particular issue is emissions of chemicals added to electronic and electrical equipment to impart flame retardancy.

Due to concerns about their health impacts and ability to accumulate in the food chain and expose us via diet (akin to DDT), some have been banned.

Studies by co-I Harrad demonstrate substantial exposure to flame retardants in populations living near e-waste treatment sites in China.

Moreover, exposure of young children consuming food reared by subsistence farmers at such sites exceeded health based limit values promulgated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

China has since moved to regulate and minimise the environmental impacts of e-waste treatment. This has led to an increase in such activity elsewhere, including Ghana and Nigeria, where regulatory activities to date have been mostly preventative but largely unenforceable.

Our overall objective is to minimise adverse impacts of e-waste treatment while maximising its substantial potential economic benefits.

To do so, we will generate data to demonstrate the risks to more effectively convince and work with local populations to minimise such risks, while retaining the economic benefits.

Project Aims

1. Quantify exposure to flame retardants and health impacts in populations exposed to e-waste treatment.

2. Further understanding of factors driving e-waste treatment in 2 African countries to maximise economic benefits while minimising the risks.

The project delivers multiple benefits to the CoIs, project partners and their respective countries. It will provide information on the nature and extent of exposure to flame retardants and associated health risks arising from e-

waste treatment, with potential global impact via regulation of such chemicals under the UNEP Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.

  • The project maps directly onto the UN sustainable development goals. Healthier cities where the right of all citizens to a sustainable livelihood is recognised, are likely to be less unequal and more prosperous;
  • partly because the working population’s life expectancy, quality of life and productivity is enhanced, but also because urban governance structures and processes will be inclusive, participatory and responsive.

    Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2 : 1 or equivalent in a mathematical, physical, biological subject with experience of laboratory measurements.

    They should have a desire to learn new skills and work in a highly dynamic multidisciplinary team. Interest in conducting research of genuine socio-

    economic and environmental importance and a desire to make a difference is essential.The student will receive full training in the environmental pollution, analytical chemistry and aspects.

    They will attend modules from the Air Pollution Management and Control MSc, as well as the MRes Social Research programme.

    They will be trained in an interdisciplinary environment with colleagues whose interests span from environmental chemistry to human geography and ecology.

    Attendance will be encouraged at training courses such as those run by the NERC DTP CENTA, and the student will be supported in communicating results in journals and at national / international conferences.

    Funding Notes

    This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.The award comprises :

  • Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK / EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019 / 20), to be paid by the University;
  • An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK / EU rates (£15,009 for 2019 / 20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
  • The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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