Effects of Cell Phones as an Environmental Hazard

Close-up of the buttons on a mobile phone
Know the facts about your cell phone's possible impact on the human and natural environment. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

According to Worldwatch Institute, users discard cell phones after an average of just 18 months in the United States. Given this rapid turnover, environmentalists believe manufacturers and policy makers should work together to ensure the reuse, recycling and proper disposal of lead-containing cell phones to protect the health of the human and natural environment. For example, Massachusetts bans electronic waste from landfills and has a fund to support electronics recycling. Other environmental effects of cell phones are emerging as well.

Radio Frequency Radiation

Two major environmental watchdog groups, the Environmental Working Group and Worldwatch Institute, highlight possible risks associated with radio frequency radiation emitted by cell phones. This happens when a user sends and receives voice and text messages. Some studies say this radiation may mean significantly higher risks for brain and salivary tumors among those using cell phones for 10 years or longer. The groups call for more research to confirm possible links between increased radiation exposure and health risks.

Toxic Leaching

The Natural Resources Defense Council observes that lead, mercury and cadmium found in personal electronic devices such as mobile phones can “release dangerous toxins into our air and water when burned or deposited in landfills improperly.” In these situations, there can be significant environmental impacts. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that ecosystems near point sources of lead often demonstrate biodiversity loss, decreased growth and reproductive rates, and neurological effects in vertebrates.

Toxic Impact On Humans

The Environmental Protection Agency also notes the environmental hazards posed by discarded cell phone components where electronic waste finally comes to rest. According to the EPA, lead taken into the body through the air, through contaminated groundwater or lead-contaminated food can accumulate in human bones. It can adversely affect “the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, and the cardiovascular system.” It can cause significant risk to young children even at low levels; exposure to infants and young children can contribute to learning deficits and lowered IQ.

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