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Hazardous chemicals in electronic devices

Standard Page - 2011-06-28
Electronic devices are a complex mixture of several hundred materials. A mobile phone, for example, contains 500 to 1,000 components. Many of these contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, as well as hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants. Polluting PVC plastic is also frequently used.

Electronic devices are a complex mixture of several hundred materials. A mobile phone, for example, contains 500 to 1,000 components. Many of these contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, as well as hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants. Polluting PVC plastic is also frequently used.

These dangerous substances cause serious pollution and put workers at risk when the products are manufactured or thrown out. Of particular concern is the exposure of children and pregnant women to lead and mercury. These metals are highly toxic and can harm children and developing fetuses even at low levels of exposure.

If you want more details, download the report, Dangerous chemicals in electronics products.

More on the health hazards of chemicals in electronics:

  • Some brominated flame retardants, used in circuit boards and plastic casings, do not break down easily and build up in the environment.  Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They can also interfere with thyroid and estrogen hormone systems. Exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioural problems.
  • The cathode ray tubes (CRT) in monitors sold worldwide contain tens of thousands of tonnes of lead. Exposure to lead can cause intellectual impairment in children and can damage the nervous, blood and reproductive systems in adults.
  • Cadmium, used in rechargeable computer batteries, contacts and switches and in older CRTs, can bioaccumulate in the environment and is highly toxic, primarily affecting the kidneys and bones.
  • Mercury, used in lighting devices for flat-screen displays, can damage the brain and central nervous system, particularly during early development.
  • Compounds of hexavalent chromium, used in the production of metal housings, are highly toxic and carcinogenic to people.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic used in some electronics products and for insulation on wires and cables. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration (or simply burning). These chemicals are highly persistent in the environment and many are toxic even in very low concentrations.

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