I'm not sure whether it's the right SE for this question, so please redirect me if it's not.

Are there any studies that show that heavy metals, for example from e-waste, can leak from landfills, into the groundwater, eventually into the human body and cause any harm to human health?

You can easily find information about dangers that, say, mercury vapors poses for human health. There are studies that show a high concentration of toxic metals in bodily fluids of people who engage in e-waste dismantling operations in developing countries (they burn imported e-waste to obtain metals).

There were experiments on animals that were exposed to mercury and then suffered from something or died. But it seems impossible to link a certain condition with heavy metals that escaped a landfill and were digested through running water. And yet, some researchers raise this issue of landfilled e-waste and heavy metals. They might say [1], "Heavy metals may escape landfills" and in another place, "Heavy metals may cause brain damage and neurological disorders". The two may not be explicitly connected but it's implied that heavy metal-contaminated e-waste dumped in landfills is a health issue.

Are there any grounds for that (given concentrations and everything)? Are those concentrations high enough for any long-term impact? And how far do those heavy metals travel through groundwater (maybe, soil filters it out at some point, idk). Please cite academic publications, if any are available.

[1]: 'Electronic waste management approaches: An overview', Waste Management, no. 33.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One interesting place to look for publications might be to look for studies of heavy metal pollution from the waste tips of long closed metal mines. There have been significant studies of these (for instance of Cornish mines). I know from first-hand experience that if you buy houses near these surveyors obsess about groundwater pollution, and I assume they do so based on evidence (also much of the pollution may be arsenic). $\endgroup$
    – user18801
    Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 15:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @tfb "surveyors obsess about groundwater pollution" you do not want your vegetable gardens filled with lead, nor you want sulphate rich water infiltrating in your basement and having some volatile compounds being stored in the cellars ... $\endgroup$
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @EarlGrey: yes, they're right to obsess. My mother had a house very close to an old mine, and decided to ignore some of the advice she got (not the lead/arsenic advice fortunately). The miners had dug an adit (drainage tunnel, really) under the house and she decided it was no problem. Fortunately she'd sold it by the time part of it it fell into the adit... $\endgroup$
    – user18801
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 14:34

1 Answer 1


The assumption is that these contaminants will leach into the ground and reach a source of drinking water. Or they will enter the food chain, by accumulating in plants, eaten by herbivores, eaten by carnivores and/or humans. So the risk is ingestion of material X, with material X being able to affect humans health if its concentration is larger than Y.

There are regulations in place, generally based on scientific data from previous exposure or from analog experiments on animals or on experimental evaluation about the toxicity of heavy metals. How they combine with

how far do those heavy metals travel through groundwater

At infinite distance, given infinite time. The real question is whether, when released in the environment, they are dispersed, spreading out and having concentrations deemed to be non-toxic, or if they concentrate at the bottom of the well where freshwater is drawn to be used for agricultural use or for drinking water.

However, in our age of infinite memory and the computer screen being able to show more than 20 columns or 20 rows at a time, I think we can agree on leaving the undefined, general term "heavy metal" to music and discussing the toxicity of each substance, one by one.

Since you seems keen to read books, I suggest you have a look at the first 50/60 pages of this book: "Contaminant Hydrogeology" by Fetter, 1999 for a quick overview of the topic.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.