Cell Phones All Contain Toxics: Older Ones the Most

By Sunny Lewis

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, October 11, 2012 (ENS) – All 36 cell phones torn apart in a new study to identify which phones are the most toxic, tested positive for chemical hazards such as lead and mercury.

The study was conducted to persuade phone manufacturers to reduce the toxic burden of their e-waste on the environment.

Americans discard 130 million cell phones every year and most end up in landfills or incinerators – only eight percent are recycled safely.

When unwanted cell phones are landfilled, chemicals leach into groundwater; when they are incinerated, toxics contaminate the air.

Some states ban electronics from landfills and incinerators, but 32 states have no such ban.

cell phone test
Researchers tore apart 36 cell phones from 10 manufacturers – all contained toxic chemicals. (Photo courtesy HealthyStuff.org)

To learn more about chemicals in cell phones, researchers at the nonprofit Ecology Center disassembled 36 phones from 10 manufacturers and determined the chemical composition of all interior and exterior components using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry.

They analyzed 1,105 samples for 35 chemical compounds and elements, including lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium.

“Even the best phones from our study are still loaded with chemical hazards,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center and founder of HealthyStuff.org, the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit group that released the test results.

“These chemicals, which are linked to birth defects, impaired learning and other serious health problems, have been found in soils at levels 10 to 100 times higher than background levels at e-waste recycling sites in China,” said Gearhart.

“We need better federal regulation of these chemicals, and we need to create incentives for the design of greener consumer electronics.”

Researchers tested phones from: Apple, Hewlett-Packard Development Company, HTC Corporation, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia Corporation, Palm, Research in Motion and Samsung Electronics. Most were made after 2007.

The researchers found that newer phones are better than older ones.

The most toxic phone tested was also the oldest – the Apple iPhone 2G. But Apple products also showed the greatest improvement. The iPhone 2G, introduced in 2007, did rate as the poorest phone tested, but the two most recent Apple phones, the 4S and 5, were among the least toxic.

The Motorola Citrus was ranked the “least toxic phone.” Samsung phones had the best average rating.

Some manufacturers are shifting to safer materials. Newer phones are likely to have less toxic flame retardants, less hazardous resins, mercury-free flat panel displays and arsenic-free glass, and circuit boards free of bromine and chlorine that destroy the ozone layer.

The ranking of cell phones tested for this study is online at: HealthyStuff.org.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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