HealthyStuff.org

2012 Mobile Phone Study

HeathyStuff.org sampled 36 different mobile phones that had been released in the last 5 years. The phones were completely disassembled; interior and exterior components were sampled by X-ray Fluorescents (XRF).

The sample represents the largest set of samples ever released for a type of electronic product. In total 1,106 samples were analyzed for 35 different chemicals and elements.

The phones represent 10 mobile phone manufacturers; Apple, Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P, HTC Corporation, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, LG Electronics, Motorola, Inc, Nokia Corporation, Palm, Inc, Research in Motion, and Samsung Electronics. There is at least one phone tested per manufacturer, in occasion several models of mobile phones were purchased for Apple, LG, Motorola, Research in Motion, and Samsung because these are the top five mobile phone manufactures in the market.

The mobile phones were disassembled using screwdrivers, scissors, and pliers. The components of the mobile phone were generalized into 7 categories due to the heterogeneous of size and composition of the phones. For example, the interior and exterior parts of the screen were generalized to the component category “screen”. The front and back case of the mobile phones were generalized to the category “case”. The remaining categories include buttons, circuit board, solder, processor and other. The “other” category includes component parts not present in all phones including parts like cameras, speakers, batteries and wires.

Mobile phone study resources

Mobile phone and sustainable electronics resources

Overall Results

Hazards in Phones

  • Mobile phones contain a large number of hazardous substances which can pollute the air when burned and leach into the soil and drinking water when buried in landfills (Osibanjo and Nnorom 2009). A mobile phone can contain over 40 elements including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs), metals representing about 23% of the weight of the phone with the remaining 77% being plastics and ceramic materials (United Nations Environment Programme 2009).
  • 100% of the phones sampled in this study contained one or more of the most hazardous chemicals analyzed for. These chemicals were detected above levels of concern established for the study. These elements include bromine, chlorine, lead, mercury and cadmium.
  • Overall the phones were tested for 35 different chemical and elements. HealthyStuff.org evaluated the overall phone hazards based on the results for 12 of these chemicals and elements. Details of the phone rating method are available at HealthyStuff.org.
  • An overall summary of chemicals and elements detected in samples is presented below. Chemicals highlighted in YELLOW are primarily chemicals (weighted more heavily) used to rate phones; chemicals highlighted in GREY are secondary chemicals.
  • Download HealthyStuff.org complete overview of chemicals hazards in phones

The Apple iPhone

In 2007, Greenpeace released the report, “Missed Called: iPhone’s Hazardous Chemicals” highlighting the presence of PVC and BFR in what was Apple’s latest product - the iPhone. Greenpeace used the XRF to measure the chemical elements used in the iPhone, focusing on the chemicals restricted by the European Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS), namely, Lead (Pb), Mercury (Hg), Cadmium (Cd), Hexavalent chromium, Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), and Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). Half of the components analyzed tested positive for bromine with three samples at over 1% of the total surface chemical composition of the material. They also found high level of chlorine in the plastic coating of the headphone cables, along with phthalates plasticisers at a total of over 1.5% by weight.

Overall Score

iPhone 2G: 5.00
iPhone 3G: 3.91
iPhone 4: 2.95
iPhone 4S: 2.69
iPhone 5: 2.80

According to the iPhone 3G 2009 Environmental Report, all Apple products comply with the RoHS in electrical and electronic equipment. The iPhone 3G is also BFR-free and PVC-free, and includes an arsenic- free display glass, a mercury-free LED backlit display, a system battery made of lithium-ion polymer and external surfaces free of Nickel plating. The models following the iPhone 3G, like the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the recently released iPhone 5 not only incorporate these features, but now include batteries free of lead, cadmium, and mercury.

Healthystuff.org sampled 36 different phones for chemical hazards. Within the large sample, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 ranked as one of the best phones with a score of 2.69 and 2.80, respectively. The iPhone 2G ranked as one of the worst phones sampled with a score of 5.00. Healthystuff.org tested 36 samples of the iPhone 2G, 42 samples of the iPhone 3G, 23 samples of the iPhone 4 and 31 samples for the iPhone 4S and 31 samples for the iPhone 5. Comparatively, the iPhone 4S had the lowest ranking for all Apple models sampled with a score of 2.69. The iPhone 2G had the highest ranking for all Apple models.

Apple considers a material PVC-free and BFR-free if it contains less than 900 ppm for Br and for Cl. Figure 1. shows the number of samples testing free of PVC and BFR for all iPhone models. The number of samples testing as PVC - free and BFR- free has increased since the release of the iPhone 2G. For example, 50% of all iPhone 2G samples tested as BFR-free whereas all samples for the iphone 4, the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 tested as 100% BFR-free. The number of samples testing as PVC- free has also increased from the iPhone 2G to the iPhone 3G but declines dramatically with the subsequent models. The iPhone 4 has 70% of all samples testing as PVC-free, the iPhone 4S has 45% of all samples testing as PVC-free and the iPhone 5 has only 39% of all samples testing as PVC-free. Of all 163 samples for Apple, 87% of the samples are considered BFR-free while 60% of the total samples are considered PVC-free.

Lead, mercury & cadmium in phones

  • 28% (305 of 1105) of all samples tested contain lead at >10 ppm.
  • 37% (406 of 1105) of all samples tested contain mercury at >10 ppm.
  • 16% (173 of 1105) of all samples tested contain cadmium at >10 ppm.

Halogen Reduction in Phone Components

  • Apple and other industry groups consider a material PVC-free and BFR-free if it contains less than 900 ppm for Br and for Cl. Despite announced effort by Apple and other manufacturers the number component testing >900 remains significant.
    • 49% (544 of 1105) of all samples tested contain bromine or chlorine at >900 ppm.
    • 14% (160 of 1105) of all samples tested contain bromine at >900 ppm.
    • 42% (464 of 1105) of all samples tested contain chlorine at >900 ppm.

Note: HealthyStuff.org only tests for a limited set of chemical hazards. Mobile Phones may also contain a variety of other chemical hazards which were NOT tested for in this study.

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