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Still too many toxic substances in laptops, says Greenpeace

Rebecca Thomson

Hazardous substances have been reduced but not eliminated from laptops, according to Greenpeace.

The charity says manufacturers have phased out some of the most toxic materials over the past year but still have a long way to go in eliminating others, such as PVC, brominated flame retardants and phthalates.

Greenpeace investigated the issue by purchasing 18 laptops from six different bands across 14 European countries and then sending them off for analysis at an independent laboratory in Denmark and the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in Exeter.

Their report, Toxic Chemicals in Computers - Reloaded, showed bromine present in more than 40% of components tested, at concentrations of up to 10% by weight. Of the laptops tested, Sony were found to have the lowest number containing bromine, and Dell laptops had the highest number.

PVC was found in 44% of all plastic coating of wires and 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.

Legislation on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, known as RoHS, has recently been implemented. Computer manufacturers have significantly reduced their use of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and certain brominated flame retardants in response to theses changes.

"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 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," AlHajj said. "The question is, which company is going to be the first to go the whole way?"


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