updated 05:49 pm EDT, Wed October 3, 2012
Generally, phones becoming less toxic
Mobile phones are being built using fewer toxic chemicals than were their predecessors, and Apple's iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, along with many other newer phone models, are among the least toxic to have been released in more than a decade. This according to a new report out from iFixit and HealthyStuff.org. The two sites performed chemical analyses on 36 phones, finding that Apple's two newest models ranked in among the five least toxic, along with models from Samsung and Motorola.
The analyses was based on X-ray fluorescence spectrometer readings, which determine the chemical composition of a material. The researchers scanned each component of a phone -- case, screen, solder, circuit board, etc -- looking for the most commonly found hazardous materials, including bromine, mercury and lead. Phones were then graded on a scale from 0 to 5, with 0 being the least toxic and 5 being the most.
They found that six of the phones scanned -- the Motorola Citrus, iPhone 4S, LG Remarq, Samsung Captivate, iPhone 5, and Samsung Evergreen -- were of "low concern" with regard to toxicity. Another 24 phones -- including the Galaxy S III, Motorola Droid X, and the iPhone 4 -- were of medium concern. The remaining six -- the Palm Treo 750, BlackBerry Storm 9530, Nokia N95, Motorola Moto W233 Renew, Palm m125, and iPhone 2G -- were of high concern.
The researchers note that the toxicity of phones impacts both human life and the larger environment in a number of ways. Toxins such as n-hexane have already been blamed for deaths among workers assembling components for Apple devices. The toxins used in the manufacture of digital devices aren't the only danger, though; similarly harmful chemicals -- such as flame retardants, PVC, bromine, and heavy metals like mercury and lead -- can be found inside phone chassis and computer keyboards. These materials continue to harm the environment even when they are discarded, often winding up in landfills in poorer nations, where they seep into groundwater supplies or are released into the air when smelted.
The researchers' findings indicate that manufacturers are generally doing a better job of making their devices with fewer environmentally destructive products. Of the best scoring handsets most were released in the last two years, while all of the devices ranked of "high concern" were released more than two years ago.