How Toxic Is Your iPhone or Other Smart Phone?

iPhone More ToxicDid you know that cell phones and smart phones have small amounts of toxic chemicals? This last October, the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center teamed up with technology experts at to test for these chemicals in 36 different phones, including the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Here’s more on what they found.

Toxic Chemicals Present

The bad news is that every phone sampled in the study contained at least one hazardous chemical from the following list: lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury, and cadmium. These chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, and other serious health problems. The good news is that things are getting better. For example, newer 2012 phones were, on average, less toxic than their 2010 counterparts.

Most of the toxic chemicals were inside the phones, so the risk of exposure through your skin is extremely low. The bigger concern is an environmental one. Though continued improvement in the manufacturing of phones and other tech equipment can limit the presence of toxic chemicals, particularly lead, but because of the nature of the products, it will be a long time before we ever have a completely non-toxic phone.

Waste products like cell phones are often shipped to China, India, Vietnam, and other countries where informal recycling infrastructures lack environmental and human health safeguards, putting these populations at risk from these chemicals. And those are just the ones that are recycled, which aren’t the majority of phones. We still have 75 percent of our electronics ending up in U.S. waste areas, where toxins can add up.

“E-waste is an enormous problem that can result in toxic chemicals seeping into drinking water and poisoning the environment,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of

How Did Your Phone Do?

How toxic is the phone you carry around with you every day? The older iPhone 2G was found to be the least environmentally friendly, along with the Nokia N95 and the BlackBerry Storm 9530. The most environmentally friendly of the group included the iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, Motorola Citrus, LG Remarq, and Samsung Captivate. All the others ended up somewhere in the middle. (See the full list here.)

What can we take away from this study?

  1. Recycling is important. Too many of us are still just throwing away our old electronic devices. Check with your local area to find the best place to recycle your old phones. Many businesses these days will even pay you for your old phone. If you Google “sell your old phone” you’ll find several companies willing to pay you cash, or check with your cell phone provider for more information. Find more options here.
  2. Keep children away. If you open your phone to replace the battery or perform other maintenance, be sure to keep young children away, and wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve finished.
  3. Disinfect. Cell phones are great germ carriers. Right out of the box, they may still have traces of toxic chemicals on the surface, as well. Wash them with an anti-bacterial wipe or some warm water and a cloth before use.

What do you think of this report? Will it affect which cell phone you buy next?

Picture courtesy Stuart Miles via


Glenn Turner, “iPhone 5 Ranks Higher Than Galaxy S III in New Study on Toxic Chemicals in Phones,”, October 3, 2012,

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