HP and Apple's toxic laptops exposed

Feature Story - 2006-09-18
Some of the best-known laptops are contaminated with some of the worst toxic chemicals. Of the five top brands we tested Hewlett-Packard and Apple laptops showed the worst contamination levels.

Dismantling laptop prior to testing for toxic chemicals.

An independant Danish laboratory tested for the presence of several toxic chemicals, including brominated flame retardants (BFRs), polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC), and even lead, in brand new laptops from five of the world's leading manufacturers (Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, Sony). HP and Apple laptops contained the highest levels of contamination.

We have been pressuring leading electronic companies to ditch toxic chemicals in favour of safer alternatives. The laptop tests reveal if the top companies are matching nice green words with real action.

Chemical lies?

Results for HP revealed high levels of a number of chemicals in its components, in particular the highest levels by far of PBDEs (a class of Brominated Fire Retardants) including something called decaBDE. HP's website claims it removed decaBDE from its products years ago.

Either HP is lying or HP needs to ask its suppliers some tough questions. Lead was also found in the soldering.

HP has been downgraded due to these results on our Guide to Greener Electronics.  The guide ranks PC and mobile companies on their chemical and waste policies and practices. HP was third but has slipped to sixth position, with 4.7 out of 10, down from 5.7.

Poison Apples

Apple has recently launched its new range of MacBooks, but what you also get with a new MacBook is the highest level of another type of toxic flame retardant, tetrabromobisphenol A. Apple claims it is looking for alternatives but for now it appears to be using far more of this toxic chemical than its competitors.

Dr. Kevin Brigden, of the Greenpeace Science Unit, was alarmed by the results: "During the sampling process it was remarkable to note that, whether Mac or PC, once you by-pass the sleek and cool design of these computers, hazardous substances are a component common to all."

Previous Greenpeace research has revealed that the same toxic chemicals found in these tests are polluting electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in China and India. These yards are often the final polluted resting place of computers thrown away in other countries.

Dr. Brigden visited these yards to take samples in 2005: "BFRs, especially PDBEs, were widespread in the recycling yards and surrounding environment in China and India where electronics components are being scrapped. Lead was also found in many locations, often at very high levels."

Because none of the large electronics players have a comprehensive take-back policy for their old products many old computers end up dumped in Asia and recycled by hand in appalling conditions.

Electronics is a fast moving, innovative industry that can respond quickly to users' wishes and new trends. It's high time it moved quickly to make greener, longer-lasting products to help reverse the growing trend in toxic e-waste.

More info

Download the full testing report.

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