Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size
A
A
A

Is Your Cell Phone Toxic?

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

hand holding a cell phone

Oct. 3, 2012 -- Gadget gurus who just upgraded to the iPhone 5 can feel good about one thing: It’s one of the greenest and least toxic cell phones on the market, according to a new report.

Other phones that did well include the Motorola Citrus, which was the least toxic of all the phones tested, the iPhone 4S, the LG Remarq, and two Samsung devices, the Captivate and the Evergreen.

Still, none of the phones was 100% hazard-free, says Jeff Gearhart, research director of the nonprofit Ecology Center, the Ann Arbor-based environmental group that tested the phones. All of the models contained concerning levels of bromine, chlorine, lead, cadmium, or mercury.

“We really want to make people aware that these electronics have [these] kind of embedded hazards that come with them,” Gearhart says. “We want to highlight the fact that that exists and let people know what those are.”

The most toxic phones were Palm’s Treo 750 and m125, the Blackberry Storm 9530, the Nokia N95, and the Motorola MOTO W233 Renew. The worst of the worst was the iPhone 2G.

The test results are striking because they show how one company, Apple, has made great strides in getting toxic materials out of its products, Gearhart says.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The full report on the testing can be found on the web site healthystuff.org.

Many Mobile Phones Are Hazardous Waste

Cell phones can contain more than 40 toxic chemicals and heavy metals. While there’s no evidence to suggest that these are dangerous to users, they are a problem when the phones are being made and after they are thrown away.

“Cell phones are particularly problematic because they are small, so people can easily toss them in domestic waste in a way you wouldn’t think of doing for large computers,” says Oladele A. Ogunseitan, PhD, MPH, a professor of public health and social ecology at the University of California, Irvine. Ogunseitan studies the toxicity of mobile phones, but he was not involved in the current research.

Americans toss millions of phones each year in favor of newer technology. According to the EPA, 141 million mobile phones were junked in 2009, the latest year for which numbers are available. Only about 12 million of those were collected for recycling.

All those discarded phones may be taking a toll on the environment.

Experiments meant to duplicate landfill conditions show that many phones leach so much lead and other heavy metals into water that they meet federal and state definitions of hazardous waste.

About half of states now have laws that require consumers to recycle mobile phones, according to the nonprofit National Center for Electronics Recycling.

The new report comes from healthystuff.org and a group called iFixit. 

Researchers dismantled and scanned 36 different kinds of mobile phones, analyzing their parts for 35 different chemicals and heavy metals. Phones were ranked based on their levels of 12 chemicals and elements, particularly chlorine, bromine, cadmium, mercury, and lead.

Those chemicals persist for years once they are released into the environment. They have been linked to a wide range of ills in people and animals -- everything from reproductive problems to cancer to brain and kidney damage.

Today on WebMD

preschool age girl sitting at desk
Article
look at my hand
Slideshow
 
woman with cleaning products
Slideshow
young boy with fever
Article
 

worried kid
fitArticle
boy on father's shoulder
Article
 
Child with red rash on cheeks
Slideshow
girl thinking
Article
 

babyapp
New
Child with adhd
Slideshow
 
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

WebMD Special Sections