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Your Smartphone's Dirty, Radioactive Secret

Science & Tech  (tags: science, research, pollution, protection, world, humans, investigation, scientists, technology, tech, study, world, discovery, computers, NewTechnology )

- 2005 days ago -
The rare earths inside microcomputers make our lives easier. But just how toxic are the guts of your smartphone?

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JL A (281)
Monday November 26, 2012, 10:43 pm
Mother Jones
Your Smartphone's Dirty, Radioactive Secret
The rare earths inside microcomputers make our lives easier. But just how toxic are the guts of your smartphone?

By Kiera Butler | Fri Nov. 23, 2012 3:08 AM PST

It's a sweltering late February afternoon when I pull into the Esso gas station in the tiny town of Bukit Merah, Malaysia. My guide, a local butcher named Hew Yun Tat, warns me that the owner is known for his stinginess. "He's going to ask you to buy him tea," Hew says. "Even though he owns many businesses around here, he still can't resist pinching pennies."

An older man emerges from the station office. His face and hands are mottled with white patches, his English broken.

"I'll talk to you," the man says, "but only if you buy me tea." He grins.

"You should be ashamed of yourself," says Hew, laughing. "A rich man like you."

At a bustling open-air café nearby, we order tea and ais kacang [1], giant shaved-ice desserts laden with chopped-up jello and sweet, sticky red beans. I dig in, but the station owner—I'll call him Esso Man, since he doesn't want me to use his real name—is moodily stirring his into a slushy puddle. We're here to ask him about something he doesn't like to talk about: a job he did 30 years ago, when he owned a trucking company. He got a contract with a local industrial plant called Asian Rare Earth [2], co-owned by Mitsubishi Chemical [3], that supplied special minerals to the personal electronics industry.

Esso Man couldn't believe his luck. He wasn't a rich man back then, and Asian Rare Earth offered three times as much as his usual gigs, just for trucking waste away from the plant. They didn't say where or how to dump the waste, and he and his three drivers were paid by the load—the quicker the trip, the more money they earned. "Sometimes they would tell us it was fertilizer, so we would take it to local farms," Esso Man says. "My uncle was a vegetable farmer, so I gave some to him." Other times, the refinery officials said the stuff was quicklime, so one driver painted his house with it. "He thought it was great, because it made all the mosquitoes and mice stay away."

In fact, Esso Man and his drivers were hauling toxic and radioactive waste [4], as they'd discover a year later, when Asian Rare Earth tried to build a dump in a neighboring town. Residents there began to protest, and a few activists took a Geiger counter to the plant, where they found levels of radiation that were off the charts—up to 88 times higher than those allowed under international guidelines. In 1985, after residents sued, the government ordered the plant to be closed until Asian Rare Earth cleaned up its mess.

[Article continues--go to site to finish or for references]

Roger G (154)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 3:21 pm
noted, thanks !

JL A (281)
Tuesday November 27, 2012, 3:23 pm
You are welcome Roger!

Jason Topps (9)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 1:06 am

Frans Badenhorst (582)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 4:17 am
WOW! Thanks for posting this J. Very insightful article.......

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 8:26 am
It is an eye-opener indeed Jason.
You are very welcome Frans.

Bob hardly here P (394)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 10:13 am
thanks for sharing

Tamara Mendelson (1)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 10:17 am
well isnt that pleasant?

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 10:41 am
You are welcome Bob.

Ruth M (235)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 1:03 pm
Interesting & frightening!!

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 2:35 pm
You are welcome Sergio. Hopefully more will get to read via this posting than if it weren't post

Debra Van Way (12)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 4:02 pm
This is why I never got a cell phone and never will. I heard about this years ago. Regular landline has always worked for me before and still does now. These poor people have certainly suffered for convenience enjoyed by others.

JL A (281)
Wednesday November 28, 2012, 4:13 pm
Thank you Debra for providing an action option for those to wishing to keep from contributing to the harms.

Sheryl G (360)
Thursday November 29, 2012, 3:04 pm
Debra, I know people think I'm old fashioned that I haven't gotten a cell phone either, finally I've got my daughters old one that I can dial 911 on. I feel badly enough I use a computer and what goes with that, our televisions, when we discard things even when we bring it to the "correct" places that is suppose to dispose of it properly, I found out later is simply shipped off to some other Country and poor workers and children pick through it, getting sick from all the handling of it.

Someone somewhere is paying a high price for all of this technology and honestly I wish we were back in the days of landlines, electric typewriters, and pen and paper. Paper could be recycled, if we could grow industrialized hemp we could use less wood.

We are starting to see in the USA a return of what we use to suffer with. There was a time when the workers died in fires like just happened in Bangladesh, there was a time when children worked in the coal mines and factories who died at young ages, there was a time when the laborer worked from sun up to sun down and still didn't make enough to feed, clothe, and shelter his family, there was a time when machines caught or chopped off hands and fingers, there was a time when factories spilled out into our rivers their toxic poisons, and our ancestors fought to bring higher standards in all those places.

So what do the Corporations do, they bring our jobs to places that do not have these safeguards for their workers or the environment, and they have slowly been pulling our wages backwards, cutting corners on workers safety, the environmental laws like the Hilburton Loophole allow Fracking to disregard our water protections. In essence, we all will have to fight back around the world. The workers in other Countries are going to have to Unionize and bring up the standards and we have to keep fighting to keep our jobs here and make the Corporations meet quality standard in all areas. The CEO's can't be so greedy, everyone gets paid a fair share after the environment and safety is met.

JL A (281)
Thursday November 29, 2012, 4:43 pm
Thank ever so much Dandelion for putting this article and issues in to a more total context, including historical, for us all to better understand how so many factors are interrelated and merit our concerns and activism!

Veronica C (22)
Thursday November 29, 2012, 9:21 pm
There seems to be something very addictive in there too because people can't seem to put them away for more than 30 seconds, and they CANNOT be separated from them.

JL A (281)
Thursday November 29, 2012, 9:25 pm
Interesting speculation Veronica--coincidence or not is the question. Given that the update to the diagnostic manual for mental health conditions is looking at adding a condition for internet addiction--your observation could lead to a proposed subcategory or parallel diagnosis some day.

Kerrie G (116)
Friday November 30, 2012, 12:58 am
Noted, thanks.

Sheryl G (360)
Friday November 30, 2012, 8:13 am
Indeed very annoying Veronica. In particular with the younger set. No matter what is going on that phone is nearby or in their hand texting constantly on these phones. In the movies, out to eat, while having a conversation or trying to. I never feel like I have their attention, and then I realize I didn't for they go, "what was that?" I am with someone but not really.

JL A (281)
Friday November 30, 2012, 9:35 am
You cannot currently send a star to Dandelion because you have done so within the last week.

JL A (281)
Friday November 30, 2012, 9:37 am
CA has addressed this issue statutorily somewhat and actually brought cases against some that shipped such waste overseas. The statute can be found at:

JL A (281)
Friday November 30, 2012, 9:51 am
You are welcome Kerrie

Past Member (0)
Sunday December 2, 2012, 8:42 pm
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