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




September 01, 2019 - March 31, 2020

Project Objectives

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:

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

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

Exploring community knowledge and perception regarding e-waste recycling

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

Project Opportunities

Student Opportunities
Ideally, this team will be comprised of 6 undergraduates and 4 graduate students studying genetics, biology, global health, environmental health and policy and public policy.

We are seeking students will genetics and molecular biology lab skills, epidemiology study design and implementation experience, and experience in data analysis, statistics, policy analysis, history and storytelling and leadership.

All students on the team will read current literature related to the project and gain an overall understanding of global health policies and local e-waste recycling policies. Graduate students on the team will play a leadership role in guiding master's and undergraduate research projects.

At the project onset, the team will break into lab-based and community-based research subgroups. The two teams will have their own tasks but will also work together on cocurricular activities.

Selected students will have the opportunity to travel to China (Taizhou and Shanghai) to do field research. Some travel will take place during Summer 2019. Students doing summer research are expected to work at least 90 hours over the course of 4 weeks. The summer component of this project is optional.

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

Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

Project Application Process

Interested students should complete the application process through the Bass Connections portal. Please note that the application window will open on January 22 and close on February 15. Program leaders will be available to discuss projects with interested students at the Bass Connections Open house on January 22. Details can be found at https://bassconnections.duke.edu.

Project Application Deadline


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