A new study analyzed cellular phone models for two common allergens; cobalt and nickel. With the expanded use of cell phones, allergists are reporting a rise in face rashes and contact dermatitis triggered by nickel and cobalt found in the phones. Symptoms are skin redness, itching, dry, itchy patches, swelling, even blistering and lesions where the metal makes contact with the skin. An allergic person can even develop post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (darkened skin) and scarring.
The test results revealed the presence of both metals in many flip-phones. Among the smart phones the Blackberry was the only one found to contain nickel. “None of the iPhones or Androids tested positive for either metal”, said researcher Luz Fonacier, MD, of Winthrop University Hospital of New York Stony Brook.
The nickel was found mostly in worn out, torn, and heavily used keypads. Using an earpiece or cover could prove effective in ensuring minimum contact with the device. In case of severe allergic reactions, consider replacing your current phone with one containing no nickel. iPhones or Droids may be a better choice to reduce the chances of an allergic reaction. “Blackberry users allergic to those particular metals should avoid prolonged conversations, text messaging and handling their phone as soon as they begin feeling symptoms”, said Fonacier.
Phone manufacturers take steps to design the phones with no exposed nickel on the exterior surface.
Mobile phones however should not take all the blame for these allergies. The metals are used in computers, and are also common in jewelry, coins and makeup, according to the researchers.
“Nickel is commonly used in electronic parts for soldering and plating and is found inside all smartphones. However, this only becomes a concern for customers with known nickel allergies when a pure nickel or high nickel content material is exposed on the smartphone’s surface then comes into contact with the skin. Research In Motion (RIM) takes careful steps to design all Blackberry smartphones with no exposed nickel on the exterior surface” says Krista Seggewiss a company spokeswoman at Research In Motion , which makes Blackberries.
“Even the best phones from our study are still loaded with chemical hazards” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center and founder of HealthyStuff.org.
“These chemicals, which are linked to birth defects, impaired learning and other serious health problems, have been found in soils at levels 10 to 100 times higher than background levels at e-waste recycling sites in China. We need better federal regulation of these chemicals, and we need to create incentives for the design of greener consumer electronics.”
According to another study, the least toxic phones were the LG Remark, the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Captivate, the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Evergreen. Usually, the older phones were more toxic then the newer. The best average ratings were given for the Samsung phones.
The most effort and improvement to remove toxic chemicals from their phones were made by Apple. In the study the iPhone 2G was the most toxic, but the iPhone 4S and 5 showed up near the top of the least toxic phone list.
The least toxic phone on the market out of 36 types of commonly used mobile phones was the Motorola Circus – according to the study completed by HealthyStuff.org and ifixit.org.
Phone manufacturers still use a range of hazardous materials such as lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium. These materials can have a serious impact on our health. For example, mercury can cause garstointestinal tract, nervous system and kidney damages, as well as neurological impairment in children. Another harmful chemical is n-Hexane, mixed with solvents for a variety of uses including the cleaning of glass, has poisoned electronic factory workers in China during cellphone production.
“Americans throw away 130 million cell phones each year and only 8 % of them are recycled properly” – according to ifixit.org. There are no laws yet on the books for 32 states in the United States which would ban the disposal of electronics in incinerators or landfields.
These harmful chemicals can get into the soil and water due to improper recycling of mobile phones. Emission during disposal and recycling of phones and computers as electronic waste or e-waste is a growing problem.
To learn more about how to recycle your electronics:
Find rechargeable battery and cell phone recycle locations near you.
Find local recyclers and read their useful information about recycling and e-waste crisis.
On their website you can request a free UPS shipping label. They also have a buy back program for your old phone.
- iPhones, Droids May Be Better Than BlackBerries For People With Nickel Allergies (wibw.com)
- Allergic to Nickel? Might Want to Trade in That Phone (news.health.com)
- Blackberry vs. iPhone — There is a winner, for your health (eurekalert.org)