Vertical profile of soil/sediment pollution and microbial community change by e-waste recycling operation

Qihang Wu, Yongming Du, Zhuying Huang, Jidong Gu, Jonathan Y.S. Leung, Bixian Mai*, Tangfu Xiao, Wen Liu, Jie Fu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The present study aims to assess the effect of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling on microbial community and the underlying modulation mechanism. Core soil/sediment samples were collected from an abandoned e-waste burning site and neighboring farmland/stream sites in Guiyu, China. High concentrations and health risks of toxic heavy metals, particularly, Sb and Sn, and halogenated flame retardants (HFRs), including decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE 209) and decabromodiphenyl ethane (DBDPE) were mostly retained at the top surface layers of soils/sediments (0–30 cm) after more than one year of natural vertical diffusion and microbe-facilitated biodegradation. Heavy metals, such as Ag, Cd, Cu, Pb, Sb, and Sn, played a critical role for the reduction of microbial diversity. This is the first study reporting the open burning of e-waste caused an obvious heat effect and enriched thermophilic/mesophilic microbes in local area. The acid washing during e-waste recycling process may result in the enrichment of acidophilic microbes. This investigation showed that e-waste processing operation resulted in not only severe pollution of the soils/sediments by various pollutants, but also reduction of microbial diversity that was difficult to self-store by the local ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1001-1010
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Electronic waste
  • Halogenated flame retardant
  • Heavy metal
  • Microbial community


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