Not too jazzed about giving Apple Maps a try on the new iPhone 5? There may be another reason to keep your 4S in your pocket: It has lower levels of harmful chemicals, according to a report just released by a Michigan-based environmental health nonprofit called the Ecology Center.
Scientists at the Ecology Center bought the 36 most popular cellphones and smartphones on the market, including the iPhone 5 and its primary competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S III. Each phone was tested for a variety of hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, and cadmium, brain-damaging heavy metals used in circuit boards, plastic casings, and glass screens, and the chemical bromine, which signifies the presence of flame retardants that are linked to thyroid problems in adults and learning disabilities in children.
There wasn't a single phone that was free of all five hazardous materials, but there is some good news if you're attached at the hip to your beloved gadget: Newer phones had fewer hazardous materials than older phones—except when it came to the two most popular phones on the market right now. The testers found that the iPhone 5 contained a higher level of chemicals than its predecessor, the iPhone 4S. But it still outperformed really old versions, like the iPhone 2, which ranked as the absolute worst with regard to hazardous materials of all the phones they tested. The Samsung Galaxy S III ranked ninth out of the 36, below some older Samsung phones.
Here's the final list of the top five (and the five worst) phones tested:
1. Motorola Citrus
2. LG Remarq
3. iPhone 4S
4. Samsung Captivate
5. iPhone 5
1. iPhone 2
2. Palm m125
3. Motorola MOTO W233 Renew
4. Nokia N95
5. Blackberry Storm 9530
For the complete ranking of all 36 phones, view the full report.
The biggest concern about toxic materials in cellphones has to do with disposal. When these phones are recycled, people disassembling them are at risk of being exposed. If they're trashed, the phones may be sent to incinerators, which burn them, releasing the toxins they contain into the air, or to landfills, where the hazardous materials may leach into groundwater.
But they can put you at risk, too. Harmful brominated flame retardants can be released by their plastic casings as the phones age, and heavy metals—namely, lead and cadmium—are used as stabilizers in PVC plastic, and those too can be released as the phones age. According to this test, 46 percent of the phones contained PVC. Also, mercury is used in some LCD and touch screens.
So your best bet, regardless of which phone you have, is to take some extra precautions to protect yourself now and once the phone gets recycled:
• Go hands-free. Get a headset that will allow you to use your phone without having to touch it or have it near your face. Not only will you keep lead, mercury, and flame retardants from rubbing off onto your hands and face, but you'll also cut down on exposure to cellphone radiation.
Read More: 4 Ways to Avoid Cellphone Radiation
• Recycle your phone properly. Not all phone recycling programs are created equal. Some will disassemble your phone carefully and make sure hazardous materials are treated with care, as they should be. Others will ship phones abroad, where people working in unsafe conditions wearing little to no protection will disassemble them. The Best Buy chain, which will take back old cellphones, just announced that it's partnering only with recyclers who've been certified to e-Stewards Standards, the most stringent international recycling standards out there. If you don't have a Best Buy near you, you can find an e-Steward–certified recycler online.