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RoHS | October 20, 2007

Comments on the Greenpeace iPhone study

The environmental group Greenpeace last week released an analysis of the new Apple iPhone, in which it claims the product contains a range of potentially dangerous chemicals. According to BSEF, all of the substances reported by Greenpeace are approved for use, and provide critical performance and safety functions in a wide range of electronic products.
Among the substances reported by Greenpeace are brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which are commonly used in electronics to provide a high level fire safety – in certain applications, they are the most effective products available. Preventing fires in electronics is particularly important, as they often contain heat sources and significant amounts of highly flammable plastics. Recent incidents with music players and computer batteries bursting into flames illustrate the dangers.

The Greenpeace report does not say which BFRs are present in the iPhone because it does not know. As the report notes, the analytical equipment used for their report can only detect the presence of an element, such as bromine, but not specific chemicals. Therefore, the report speculates about what substances might be present, and raises an alarm without any basis for doing so.

Even according to the Greenpeace study, the iPhone complies with all EU regulatory requirements. The brominated flame retardant most likely used in the iPhone is actually a reactive – i.e. it reacts with other substances to form a plastic and, once reacted, it is also no longer available to the environment. Therefore, the Greenpeace report is incorrect in its assertions about the potential for releases to the environment.

Furthermore, as a result of the EU’s WEEE Directive, printed circuit boards such as those used in the iPhone are separated out before being recycled or recovered, in large part because they contain significant amounts of precious metals. Regulations similar to WEEE are being implemented in numerous other places around the world.

Finally, Greenpeace offers no constructive alternative for providing fire safety in electronic equipment and fails to note that BFRs are among the most tested and well-known flame retardants currently available. While alternative substances do exist, none are as well known or as well tested.

Flame retardants play a critical role in protecting the public against the very real dangers of fire and the importance of their use in consumer electronics is recognized by responsible electronics manufacturers. Given this critical public safety function, common sense supports using substances that are already compliant with existing regulations, such as REACH and WEEE, rather than using untested or unknown “alternatives”.

Reporting its finding, Greenpeace says that it found chemicals that have or are in the process of being eliminated by other mobile phone manufacturers. According to Greenpeace, the iPhone contains brominated compounds, indicating the prescence of brominated flame retardants BFRs, and PVCs. A total of 18 individual components and/or materials in the iPhone were tested using XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry).XRF analysis can, however, only detect the presence of bromine on the surface of components, rather than specific chemicals in specific concentrations, BSEF said.

BSEF is the international organisation of the bromine chemical industry, whose remit is to inform stakeholders and commission science on brominated chemicals such as flame retardants.

Comments

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