[RESOURCE] Emissions of Brominated Flame Retardants Associated with the Treatment of Waste Electronics, Furnishings and Building Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences


Global production of electronic waste (e-waste) is estimated to be both substantial and increasing significantly with time. Such e-waste is distinct both chemically and physically from other categories of municipal or industrial waste. While recycling e-waste is attractive because of its valuable base material and component content; it also contains high concentrations of environmental contaminants such as heavy metals and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Within the UK, the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Regulations (WEEE) came into force in July 2007. This requires collection of 65% of e-waste, and recovery of 85% of the collected material. This means that 35% of UK e-waste can still be disposed to landfill untreated, augmenting the already substantial quantity of e-waste residing in UK landfills. While studies exist demonstrating that BFRs (specifically polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBP-A)) can leach to groundwater from landfilled e-waste, alongside evidence of elevated airborne concentrations of hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs) in the vicinity of a UK e-waste treatment facility; studies of BFR emissions from such waste are few. BFRs are also present at percent levels in materials like furnishings (polyurethane foam and textiles), and building insulation foam. However, in contrast to e-waste, there is presently no legislation requiring special treatment of such materials during their disposal, and it is likely that most such items are landfilled in non-hazardous municipal and commercial waste facilities. The project will test the hypothesis that emissions to air and groundwater from waste materials in landfill constitute an important source of BFRs to the environment. Objective (1) of the project is to generate emission factors for the release of BFRs from landfilled waste, which will be combined with knowledge of the mass of such material to generate estimates of BFR emissions on a national scale. This is especially pertinent as the 2010 UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) report conducted by the CASE partner AEA, for Defra highlights knowledge of PBDE 'release from materials during and following disposal' as an area to be addressed if the current emissions estimate for PBDEs is to be improved. Objective (2) is to enhance understanding of the factors influencing emissions and of the potential for BFR degradation under landfill conditions. To test the project hypothesis and its objectives, we propose an experimental programme combining: (a) field measurements of the concentrations of BFRs in air and leachate samples at a number of UK landfill sites; with (b) controlled lab-based studies of BFR leaching from waste materials. In addition to training in transferable research skills, the student will receive specialist training in trace analysis of BFRs, coupled with lab-based methods for studying emissions from waste at Birmingham. At AEA, they will receive training in field sampling techniques, in emissions inventory compilation, and experience of a commercial research environment and of regulation policy support. Further training will be provided by the Free University of Amsterdam. Here, the student will benefit from immersion in an internationally-renowned academic research environment outside the UK with expertise and a strong track record of research into the environmental fate and behaviour of BFRs, and will receive training in in vitro methods for studying the degradation of BFRs under landfill conditions.


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