Sofia Schlezak

HES Graduate, Master’s Thesis
Training Assistant at United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
HES student graduate, Sofia Schlezak


  • Master’s Thesis
  • Environmental Track
  • Thesis Topic: Chemical Risk Reduction in the Informal E-Waste Management Sector in Argentina
  • Thesis Abstract: The expansion of technology in the 21st century is accompanied by a growing production of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), including laptops, cellphones, refrigerators, kitchen appliances, and toys. The global consumption of EEE is increasing annually by 2.5 million metric tons, generating one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world, known as “e-waste” or “WEEE.” Throughout the last decade, because of the complexity of its management and the toxicity and high relevance of many materials in EEE, e-waste was prioritized in the agendas of various international organizations. Furthermore, this waste stream is becoming an increasingly important source of income for many vulnerable communities. In this context, research has begun to focus on the environmental and health risks for informal e-waste workers, their families and neighbours.

    While most projects and studies have assessed effects on women and children in Africa or Asia, very few have aimed to assist low-income workers in Latin America to apply the best management practices and reduce risks with a simultaneous positive impact on their economies. To contribute to filling this gap, through a mixed-methods and participatory approach, this thesis identifies chemical risks and risk perceptions in two informal and semi-formal e-waste management scenarios in Buenos Aires (Argentina). Then, it proposes risk reduction interventions based on the NIOSH Hierarchy of Controls and the Engineering and Sustainable Community Development criteria. Targeting five main audiences (workers, governmental officials, scholars, professors, and students), this study motivates the incorporation of e-waste as a topic for engineering education and encourages research and action toward occupational safety in non-formal settings. Finally, it recommends a focus on not only the environmental and health protection of workers and their communities but also the socio-economic development of these “invisibilized waste management heroes.”

Work After Graduation

Sofia works at the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme (CWMP) at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). In this role, she coordinates projects related to the regulation of chemicals and waste (for example, mercury and persistent organic pollutants). She provides trainings for both public and private sectors, and the general public.

What drew you to the HES program?

My personal and professional objectives have always been to serve disadvantaged communities, and I wanted to bridge my two passions- engineering and social justice- to achieve this. I was determined to find a program that would change how I think and act, truly listen to what the communities had to say, understand their problems in a comprehensive manner, and work side-by-side with them to face the challenges posed by the socio-environmental threats surrounding their lives. I was eager to discuss new concepts and discover new fields of expertise. Since I first heard about the HES program and its high-level scholars, I became very enthusiastic about the idea of being part of this academic community, a place where I felt I could learn to achieve my goals.

I was also fascinated with Mines’ international openness and partnerships. There are many projects going on in the field of Environmental Engineering in different countries that captivated me. The program has links with renowned institutions in the US and globally.

Who should consider the HES program?

The engineers and scientists who accept the challenge of extending their knowledge and boundaries to get out of their comfort zone and become well-rounded professionals; engineers and scientists who do not just want to work for communities but with communities; those who are ready to read much much more than they did in undergrad!