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RoHS | October 17, 2007

The iPhone's hazardous chemicals

Scientific tests, arranged by environmental organisation Greenpeace, reveal that Apple's iPhone contains hazardous chemicals. The tests uncovered two types of hazardous substances, some of which have already been eliminated by other mobile phone makers.
In May, Steve Jobs, the boss of Apple, claimed: "Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors" on environmental issues.

Greenpeace watched closely when the iPhone was launched in June for any mention of the green features of the phone from Apple. According to Greenpeace there was none.

So Greenpeace bought a new iPhone in June and sent it their Research Laboratories in the UK. Analysis revealed that the iPhone contains toxic brominated compounds (indicating the prescence of brominated flame retardants (BFRs)) and hazardous PVC.

An independent scientific laboratory tested 18 internal and external components of the iPhone and confirmed the presence of brominated compounds in half the samples, including in the phone's antenna, in which they made up 10 percent of the total weight of the flexible circuit board. A mixture of toxic phthalates was found to make up 1.5 percent of the plastic (PVC) coating of the headphone cables.

"Steve Jobs has missed the call on making the iPhone his first step towards greening Apple's products," said Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner. "It seems that Apple is far from leading the way for a green electronics industry as competitors, like Nokia, already sell mobile phones free of PVC".

Dr. David Santillo, Senior Scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, commented, "Two of the phthalate plasticisers found at high levels in the headphone cable are classified in Europe as 'toxic to reproduction, category 2' because of their long-recognised ability to interfere with sexual development in mammals. While they are not prohibited in mobile phones, these phthalates are banned from use in all toys or childcare articles sold in Europe. Apple should eliminate the use of these chemicals from its products range."

The disassembling also revealed the iPhone's battery was, unusually, glued and soldered in to the handset. This hinders battery replacement and makes separation for recycling, or appropriate disposal, more difficult, and therefore adds to the burden of electronic waste.

Behind the competition
According to Greenpeace, Nokia is totally PVC free, Motorola and Sony Ericsson have already products on the market with BFR free components. Apple's competitors have also identified extra toxic chemicals they intend to remove in the future - beyond current minimum legal requirements.

Nokia and Sony Ericsson have a global take-back policy for their phones and accept responsibility for reuse and recycling of phones they manufacture. That saves resources and helps prevent old phones from adding to the mountain of e-waste that has been dumped in Asia.

Apple does not have a global free take-back policy so the eventual fate of the between four and 10 million iPhones expected to be sold in its first year is uncertain.Check out Greenpeace’s video of the disassembly of the iPhone and what the tests revealed:



Click Here for a slideshow of how the iPhone was disassembled for testing (by Greenpeace)

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