Ecology Center study on hazardous chemicals in smart phones listed among top 12 "greenbiz" stories of 2012

Put down that phone and listen up!

The Ecology Center's October report on hazardous chemicals in smart phones was ranked as one of the top 12 stories of 2012 by, a newsletter that reports on issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility in business.

In addition to the story in, the report was covered by news media, large and small, all over the world, including the New York Times, CNET, Wired, Mother Jones, CBS News, GigaOm, Grist, TechMeme and dozens of other outlets.

"There seems to be intense interest in this subject, partly reflecting the continuing growth of the use of cell phones, but also because of many individual's very legitimate concerns about the potential hazards of something they hold in their hands and close to their faces for hours each day," according to Ecology Center research director Jeff Gearhart, founder of

In the Ecology Center's tests of 36 different cell phones, including the recently released iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S III, each of them was found to contain at least one of these hazardous chemicals: lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium.

"These hazardous substances can pollute throughout a product’s life cycle, including when the minerals are extracted; when they are processed; during phone manufacturing; and at the end of the phone’s useful life," Gearhart said.

The Ecology Center teamed up with technology gurus at for the testing; the results were released in October at and

There are other problems from the materials used in cell phones. Emissions during disposal and recycling of phones as electronic waste, or “e-waste,” are particularly problematic, Gearhart said. And the mining of some tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold used in mobile phones has been linked to conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Even the best phones from our study are still loaded with chemical hazards,” Gearhart said. “These chemicals, which are linked to birth defects, impaired learning and other serious health problems, have been found in soils at levels 10 to 100 times higher than background levels at e-waste recycling sites in China. We need better federal regulation of these chemicals, and we need to create incentives for the design of greener consumer electronics.”

“Consumer demand for more sustainable mobile phones is driving companies to produce better products,” Gearhart said. “We also need better federal and international policy to manage both chemicals and e-waste, as well as to promote sustainable design.”

EcoLink — January 2013 Ecolink
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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