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Is Your Cell Phone Toxic?

Many Mobile Phones Are Hazardous Waste continued...

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.

Finding a Better Phone

Researchers weren’t able to test every phone model. Gearhart says if the particular phone you’re interested in isn’t on the list, there are a couple of rules of thumb that can guide phone shoppers to less toxic choices.

  • “Green” phones generally are. Gearhart says he was pleasantly surprised to find that phones marketed as eco-friendly, like the Samsung Evergreen and the LG Remarq, often live up to their marketing.
  • Check to see if the phone meets RoHS standards. The European Union has banned the use of certain toxic materials in electronics through its Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. Products that meet that standard, which is stricter than in the U.S., are sometimes marked as being RoHS or WEEE compliant.
  • Recycle your old phone. Many mobile phone providers and big box retailers now have programs to collect and recycle unwanted cell phones. Just be sure to erase any personal data before you turn in or sell your old mobile device.
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