Hazardous substances reduced but not eliminated from laptops, says Greenpeace

Press release - 23 October, 2007
A Greenpeace investigation into hazardous materials in laptop computers shows that manufacturers have phased out use of some of the most toxic materials over the past year but still have a long way to go in eliminating others, such as PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and phthalates.(1)

Image shows dismantling of laptops to enable testing of individual components and materials for a range of hazardous substances as part of a Greenpeace study ‘Toxic Chemicals in Computers Exposed’ that revealed the presence of toxic substances in five well-known brand laptops, with HP and Apple having the highest contamination levels.

Greenpeace purchased 18 laptops representing six different brands in 14 countries in Europe, in North and South America and Asia and sent them for analysis by an independent laboratory in Denmark and at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories at Exeter University, in the UK. (2)

The results of the analysis, contained in the report, "Toxic chemicals in computers - Reloaded", (1) show bromine being present in over 40 per cent of the components tested, at concentrations of up to 10 per cent by weight. Of the components tested, Sony laptops were found to have the lowest number containing bromine, Dell laptops had the highest number. PVC was found in 44 per cent of all plastic coating of internal wires and external cables that were tested. Phthalates were found in the power cables supplied with all laptops, with the highest levels in those of Acer and HP laptops. (3)

"While levels of certain toxic chemicals in the laptop components tested do not exceed current European standards, other hazardous chemicals found in laptops are not yet covered by European regulations," said Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner. "Greenpeace's goal is for computer manufacturers to eliminate the use of toxic materials completely."   

The new report follows up on a similar Greenpeace investigation into toxics in laptops sold in Europe in 2006, prior to the introduction of European legislation on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, known as RoHS (4).

With the implementation of RoHS, computer manufacturers have significantly reduced their use of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and certain brominated flame retardants. These changes have been implemented by all companies and not only for the European market.

"The results demonstrate that legislation in one region can have an influence even in countries where it does not yet apply. However, even where they do exist, current laws fail to regulate all hazardous chemicals in laptops, or in other electrical equipment, "said Dr. Kevin Brigden from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories who oversaw the sampling analyses and produced the report. "Laws which aim to protect human health and the environment must ultimately address all hazardous substances," he added.

The analysis shows that, for almost every component found to contain either bromine or plastic PVC, an equivalent component free of these chemicals can be found in another laptop.

"In theory, by combining components from different machines, the industry could already almost produce the first toxic-free computer," said al-Hajj. "The question is, which company is going to be the first to go the whole way."

Other contacts: Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International Campaigner +31 (0) 6 53128904 Dr. Kevin Brigden, Greenpeace Research Laboratories +44 (0)1392 263782Omer Elnaiem, Greenpeace International Communications +31 (0) 6 1509 3589

VVPR info: John Novis, Greenpeace International Head of Photography for Images + 31 (0) 653 81 91 21 -Maarten van Rouveroy, Greenpeace International Video Producer +31 (0) 6 4619 7322

Notes: (2) Greenpeace purchased a total of 18 individual laptops, representing six popular brands of laptop computer (Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, Sony and Toshiba) within the EU and other countries in Europe, in North and South America and in Asia between July and September 2006. The presence of a variety of hazardous substances was investigated in a comparable selection of internal and external components. The analyses were carried out at an independent Danish laboratory and at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the UK.(3) Bromine: In whatever form, the presence of high proportions by weight of bromine in electronic components is of concern with respect to the disposal or recycling at end-of-life, as even cross-linked organic-bound bromine can contribute to the formation of toxic chemicals, including persistent and bio-accumulative brominated dioxins and related compounds during thermal destruction or processing.PVC: (polyvinyl chloride) is a chlorinated plastic. Its production, use and disposal can create toxic pollution, including the formation of persistent and bio-accumulative and toxic chlorinated dioxins and related compounds.Phthalates: These toxic chemicals are widely used as plasticisers (softeners) in some plastics, especially softened PVC. Phthalates are able to migrate out of the plastic over time. A number of phthalates were identified including DEHP, a chemical classified in the EU as ‘toxic to reproduction’. (4) The European Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, or the RoHS Directive (Directive 2002/95), entered into force on July 1st 2006. The Directive prohibits, with certain exemptions, the placing on the market within the EU of such equipment if it contains more than regulated amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium (chromium (VI)), or of two types of brominated flame retardants, namely polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs, other than the decabrominated congener BDE-209).