FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2012
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iPhone 5 Ranks Higher than Galaxy S III in New Study on Toxic Chemicals in Phones
36 Phones Tested for Lead, Mercury, Hazardous Flame Retardants and More:
For the first time the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center teamed up with technology
gurus at ifixit.com to research toxic chemicals in 36 different cell phones,
including the recently released iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S III. The results
were released today at www.HealthyStuff.org and
The Motorola Citrus ranked the least toxic phone followed by the iPhone 4 S and the LG Remarq. The new iPhone 5 ranked 5th, versus its primary competitor, Samsung Galaxy S III, which ranked 9th. The most toxic phone tested was the iPhone 2G. The full list of rankings can be found at HealthyStuff.org.
Every phone sampled in this study contained at least one of following hazardous
chemicals: lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium. These hazardous substances
can pollute throughout a product’s life cycle, including when the minerals
are extracted; when they are processed; during phone manufacturing; and at
the end of the phone’s useful life. Emissions during disposal and recycling
of phones as electronic waste, or “e-waste,” are particularly problematic.
The mining of some tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold used in mobile phones
has been linked to conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Even the best phones from our study are still loaded with chemical
Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center and founder of HealthyStuff.org.
“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. We
need better federal regulation of these chemicals, and we need to create incentives
for the design of greener consumer electronics.”
A 2004 study found that three-quarters of all cell phones leach lead at levels that would qualify them as hazardous waste. While tracking e-waste is difficult, it is estimated that 50-80% is exported to countries such as China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Phillipines, where there is a labor-intensive, informal recycling infrastrucure that often lacks environmental and human health safeguards.
“In 2009, 2.37 million tons of electronics were ready for what the Environmental
Protection Agency calls ‘end-of-life management’ -- code for broken,
dead, outdated, and unwanted devices,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of ifixit.com. “Of
the digital castoffs, only 25% made it into recycling centers. We can’t
allow the other 75% of our old electronics to become waste. All those toxics
add up. E-waste is an enormous problem that can result in toxic chemicals seeping
into drinking water and poisoning the environment.”
Most of the 36 cell phones analyzed were models released in the last 5 years. The phones tested represent 10 mobile phone manufacturers, including: Apple, Hewlett-Packard Development Company, HTC Corporation, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia Corporation, Palm, Research in Motion and Samsung Electronics. The sample represents the largest set ever released for any electronic product. In total, 1,105 samples were analyzed for 35 different chemicals and elements. The phones were completely disassembled and interior and exterior components were tested using X-ray Fluorescence (XRF).
“Consumer demand for more sustainable mobile phones is driving companies
to produce better products,” said Gearhart. “We also need better federal and
international policy to manage both chemicals and e-waste, as well as to promote
Highlights of Findings:
- 100% of cell phones tested contain chemical hazards.
- Samsung phones had the highest average rating of all phone tested.
- Apple, now among industry leaders, showed the greatest improvement.The iPhone 2G, introduced in 2007 rated as the poorest phone tested. The two most recent Apple phones, the 4s and 5, are among the best phones tested.
- Newer phones are better than older phones. Overall product ratings have improved significantly (33%) since 2007.This reflects an increased focus on reducing chemical hazards by the industry.
- Transition to safer alternatives is underway. Leading manufacturers, including Apple, Sony, Samsung and others have started the shift to safer materials and chemistries.
Manufacturers are cleaning up their act in part by: 1) Using less hazardous resins, including thermoplastic copolymers and polyamide to replace PVC in cabling and other applications; 2) Avoiding the need for cabling through simplified design; 3) Using mercury-free LCD displays and arsenic-free glass; 4) Using bromine- and chlorine-free printed circuit board laminates; and 5) Moving to less toxic, reactive phosphorous-based flame retardant chemistries.
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