HP and Apple's toxic laptops exposed

Feature story - 18 September, 2006
Some of the best-known laptops are contaminated with some of the worst toxic chemicals. Of the five top brands we tested Hewlett-Packard and Apple laptops showed the worst contamination levels.

Dismantling laptop prior to testing for toxic chemicals.

An independant Danish laboratory tested for the presence of several toxicchemicals, including brominated flame retardants (BFRs), polyvinylchloride plastic (PVC), and even lead, in brand new laptops from fiveof the world's leading manufacturers (Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, Sony). HPand Apple laptops contained the highest levels of contamination.

We have been pressuring leading electronic companies to ditch toxicchemicals in favour of safer alternatives. The laptop tests reveal ifthe top companies are matching nice green words with real action.

Chemical lies?

Results for HP revealed high levels of a number of chemicals in itscomponents, in particular the highest levels by far of PBDEs (a classof Brominated Fire Retardants) including something called decaBDE. HP's website claims it removed decaBDE fromits products years ago.

Either HP is lying or HP needs to ask itssuppliers some tough questions. Lead was also found in the soldering.

HP has been downgraded due to these results on our Guide to GreenerElectronics.  The guide ranks PC and mobile companies on their chemical andwaste policies and practices. HP was third but has slipped to sixthposition, with 4.7 out of 10, down from 5.7.

Poison Apples

Apple has recently launched its new range of MacBooks, but what youalso get with a new MacBook is the highest level of another type oftoxic flame retardant, tetrabromobisphenol A. Apple claims it islooking for alternatives but for now it appears to be using far more of thistoxic chemical than its competitors.

Dr. Kevin Brigden, of the Greenpeace Science Unit, was alarmedby the results: "During the sampling process it was remarkable to notethat, whether Mac or PC, once you by-pass the sleek and cool design ofthese computers, hazardous substances are a component common to all."

Previous Greenpeace research has revealed that the same toxic chemicalsfound in these tests are polluting electronic waste (e-waste) scrapyards in China and India. These yards are often the final pollutedresting place of computers thrown away in other countries.

Dr. Brigden visited these yards to take samples in 2005: "BFRs,especially PDBEs, were widespread in the recycling yards andsurrounding environment in China and India where electronics componentsare being scrapped. Lead was also found in many locations, often atvery high levels."

Because none of the large electronics players have a comprehensivetake-back policy for their old products many old computers end up dumped inAsia and recycled by hand in appalling conditions.

Electronics is a fast moving, innovative industry that can respondquickly to users' wishes and new trends. It's high time it moved quicklyto make greener, longer-lasting products to help reverse the growingtrend in toxic e-waste.

More info

Download the full testing report.

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