Toxins in Computers

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For more detailed information click on the toxin.

Barium

  • (CRT): Intestinal illness, muscular weakness

Beryllium

  • (electronics): Can damge bones, cause cancer

Found in:

  • Springs, relays, clips and connections on boards where flexibility in copper is needed
  • copper-beryllium alloy (typically 98% copper, 2% beryllium)

Impacts:
Beryllium = known human carcinogen
Beryllium dust (from shredding) & fumes (from high temp metal refining processes) can cause berylliosis with permanent lung scarring, and can be fatal

Cadmium

  • (batteries and circuit boards): Kidney, liver, bone, and blood damage

Found in:

  • Some contacts, switches
  • Rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries, e.g. in laptops
  • Used as a stabilizer in some PVC formulations, e.g. wire insulation
  • On some circuit boards in plated contacts and switches
  • Cadmium sulphide used in older CRTs’ phosphors coating

Impacts:

  • Highly toxic to plants, animals and humans, causing kidney and bone damage at low levels, heart disease, & hypertension.
  • Known human carcinogen.
  • Bioaccumulative.


Lead

  • (CRT, circuit boards): Vascular and kidney disease, brain disorders in young children

Found in:

  • Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) in the form of lead oxide (PbO)
  • Frit between CRT face plate and funnel (79% lead)
  • Lead acid batteries (UPS, battery backups)
  • Lead solder in almost all electronics prior to 2006 RoHS Directive
  • PVC sheathing in cables
  • In some circuit board components

Impacts: Exposure can cause damage to reproductive, blood and nervous systems, brain development, kidneys.

Mercury

  • (plastics, cables, CRTs): endocrine disruptor, neurotoxin
  • (LCD, flat panel displays, batteries): kidney damage

Found in:

All fluorescent lamps:

  • in most LCD screens, e.g. laptops; TVs; some cell phones and PDAs; optical scanners of some copiers, scanners
  • fax machines; gaming devices, etc.
  • Phosphors powder in mercury lamps contain mercury

Mercury relay switches (e.g. in older mainframe equipment)

Some button cell batteries

UHP lamps used in data projectors and rear projection televisions (contained within a small bulb within the lamp)

Military electronic equipment contains higher levels of mercury

Impacts:

Bioaccumulative & biomagnifies, travels globally
Highly toxic to central nervous system and kidneys


Brominated Flame Retardants

Found in:

  • Most plastic housings
  • In printed circuit boards (approx 20% bromine)
  • PVC sheathing around cable and wires

Impacts:
Neurological impairment, endocrine disruptor, impacts on liver, fetal development, immune system

Organobromine compounds – persistent & bioaccumulative

  • Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs)
  • Tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA)


Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

Found in:

  • Capacitors, ballasts, insulation, etc.

Impacts:
Neurological impairment, endocrine disruptor, impacts on liver, fetal development, & immune system
A toxic Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP), now banned in all applications.


Other

  • Hexavalent chromium (steel): liver, kidney, nerve tissues
  • Phosphorus (CRT): skin, eye, and stomach irritation

The following are links to info about e-waste: