The cell telephones that consumers in the United States discard by the millions each year classify as hazardous waste, according to a study published in the April 1 issue of the ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
Oladele A. Ogunseitan and colleagues at the University of California at Irvine cite long-standing concerns about the quantity of consumer electronics products that wind up in dumps and landfills. They estimate that more than 700 million cell phones already have been discarded or are stockpiled awaiting disposal, with 130 million cell phones trashed in 2005 alone.
In the new study, researchers used standard lab procedures to analyze chemicals in simulated cell phone "leachate" — the liquid that dribbles out into the soil from cell phones in dumps and landfills. Lead in the leachate was high enough to make cell phones classify as hazardous waste under Federal regulations, the study found. Lead-free phones, however, still are classified as hazardous waste under California regulations due to high levels of copper, nickel, antimony and zinc in the leachate.
The findings have "profound implications" for the ultimate disposal of cell phones, the researchers said. "These data demonstrate that electronics manufacturers who seek to design products exempt from current hazardous waste classifications will need to address not just lead, as the current wave of responses to European and Japanese regulations has shown, but also nickel, antimony and zinc, and most importantly, copper content."
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