Toxic substances in laptops: Greenpeace study exposes HP's lie

Press release - September 18, 2006
A Greenpeace study has revealed the presence of toxic substances in well-known brand laptops, with HP and Apple having the highest contamination levels. (1) HP's statement on its website that brominated flame retardant (BFR) decaBDE had been removed many years ago from its products has proved to be a lie, as Greenpeace investigations found that this chemical is still present. (2)

Dismantling laptop prior to testing for toxic chemicals.

Among other things, the Greenpeace report 'Toxic Chemicals in Computers Exposed' showed that the HP laptop had high levels of a number of chemicals in its components, in particular the highest levels by far of PBDEs (a class of BFRs) including decaBDE, in the fan. Lead was also found in the soldering. (2) At a concentration of 262 mg/kg, the AppleMacbook contained in the fan the highest level among the five brands tested of another type of toxic, BFR (TBBPA). Many of the chemicals found in the laptops, including lead, PVC and some BFRs, are hazardous to health and persist in the environment. (3)

"During the sampling process it was remarkable to note that, whether Mac or PC, once you by-pass the sleek and cool design of these computers, hazardous substances are a component common to all", said Dr. Kevin Brigden from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories who oversaw the sampling analyses and produced the report.

HP's lie on its website has resulted in it being downgraded in the recently released 'Guide to Greener Electronics', a Greenpeace guide that ranks PC and mobile companies on their chemical and waste policies and practices.  HP was the third best company but has slipped to sixth position, they now have a score of 4.7 out of 10, down from 5.7 where it ranked when the guide was released last month. (4)

"It is alarming to see top level companies moving down the ranking rather than moving forward in their commitments to eliminate toxic substances from their products," said Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner. "HP has failed to live up to its commitments and is behind the times, and Apple, keen to promote its new Macbook and be shown as a progressive company on environmental issues, has now earned itself an image as an industrial dinosaur."

With no global take back system fully functioning by the electronic companies, there is a high risk that these contaminated products will end up polluting the yards of China and India where many old computers are being dumped. (5)

"BFRs, especially PDBEs, were widespread in the recycling yards and surrounding environment in China and India where electronics components are being scrapped. Lead was also found in many locations, often at very high levels," concluded Dr. Brigden.

Greenpeace wants the electronics industry to design products that are greener and last longer and which are easy to recycle. Greenpeace is calling on the electronics industry to go beyond the EU RoHS directive and eliminate all hazardous chemicals, including all type of BFRs and PVC plastic. No company has yet put on the market a product that is clean of all of these chemicals.

VVPR info:
For more information and interviews:
Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International Campaigner +31 6 5312 8904
Dr. Kevin Brigden, Greenpeace Research Laboratories +44 1 3922 63782
Suzette Jackson, Greenpeace International Communications +31 6 4619 7324

Images of the dismantled computer products and e-waste dumping
Suzette Jackson, Greenpeace International Communications +31 6 4619 7324

Video of dismantled computer products and e-waste dumping
The clip includes the dismantling of an HP laptop at the Exeter Lab, an interview with Dr. Kevin Brigden, Greenpeace scientist at Exeter and background pictures of electronic waste in Guiya, China. CONTACT: +31 6 4619 7322

Notes: (1) Greenpeace purchased one model from five popular brands of laptop computer (Acer, Apple, Dell, HP and Sony) in March 2006, and the presence of certain hazardous substances was investigated in a wide variety of internal and external components. An independent Danish laboratory, conducted the analyses for Greenpeace. The Greenpeace report 'Toxic chemicals in computers exposed' is available at:
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/toxic-chemicals-in-computers
(2) The fan contained 1650 mg/kg (or 0.165% by weight) of decaBDE and 2040 mg/kg (or 0.204% by weight) of nonaBDEs, as well as other PBDEs, though at lower levels. HP has a statement on its website claiming decaBDE to be eliminated from its products: http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/environment/productdesign/materialuse.html#RoHS
(3) LEAD: Lead is highly toxic to humans, as well as to animals and plants. It can build up in the body through repeated exposure and have irreversible effects on the nervous system, particularly the developing nervous system in children. Lead is one of the chemicals that are restricted under the EU RoHS Directive.
BFRs: Long-term exposure to some BFRs (certain PBDEs) has been associated with abnormal brain development in animals, with possible long-term impacts on memory, learning and behaviour. Some BFRs also interfere with thyroid and oestrogen hormone systems. TBBPA, a type of BFR used in circuit boards among other components, has been shown in some laboratory studies to be toxic to the nervous system. The presence of PBDE and TBBPA, or other bromine containing chemicals, in electronics products has the potential to generate brominated dioxins and furans, when the electronic waste comes to be smelted, incinerated or burnt in the open. Brominated dioxins and furans may be of equivalent toxicity to chlorinated dioxins and furans, chemical compounds widely recognised as some of the most toxic chemicals many being toxic even in very low concentrations.
PVC: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic used in some electronic products and for insulation on wires and cables. PVC is one of the most widely used plastics but its production, use and disposal create toxic pollution. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration (or simply burning). Dioxins and furans are classes of chemical compounds widely recognised as some of the most toxic chemicals ever made by humans and many are toxic even in very low concentrations.
(4) Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics. This Guide ranks leading mobile and PC manufacturers on their global policies and practice on eliminating harmful chemicals and on taking responsibility for their products once they are discarded by consumers. Companies are ranked solely on information that is publicly available. HP specific information and new ranking scorecard http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/greener-electronics-hp-ranking/
(5) August 2005: Greenpeace released a report on its scientific investigations into the hazardous chemicals found in the scrap yards where electronic waste is recycled in China and India. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/recyclingelectronicwasteindiachinafull/