The radioactive wake of your Smartphone

Kiera Butler at Mother Jones wrote a fantastic piece on the radioactive components of your phone and what it took to source them. You may not be surprised by what she uncovers but you certainly will not be happy with what you learn! "My phone's shady past, it turned out, began long before it was assembled in a Chinese factory. The elements used to power all our high-tech gadgets come from a very dirty industry in which rich nations extract the good stuff from the earth—and leave poor countries to clean up the mess." (Thanks Sean!)


    1. I was pretty much thinking the same thing.  I guess the price to extract it and convert it to a usable form is cheaper than converting the waste by-product, but still.  All these heavy metal types of waste remind me of oil.  In the beginning it wasn’t that hard to acquire light crude that was easy to refine.  As that has been used up we have to search out and refine lower quality sources at a greater expense.  Looks like a company would just go ahead and start refining this stuff now (or if not a company a government facility).

      1. I’d think it will be easier to process the “waste”. The material is already mined from the ground, dissolved, purified (the rare earths are removed), and many operations that’d have to be done with fresh in-the-ground ore therefore don’t have to be done anymore.

  1. What is utterly depressing about it all is that it seems one cannot live a truly ethical life.  At some point you’re going to be giving money to people who are happy to kill people in their quest for money.  I would happily pay more for products that are free of the history of human misery and just live with having less stuff.  But the world seems to currently work on different principles.

    In the end I am as impressed by the free market as I am by communism.

    1. What’s depressing is the headline.  A smart phone likely contains very little in the way of rare earths. Except for perhaps the magnets in the buzzer.

      The real evil here is the regulatory arbitrage going on.  Meaning moving businesses to places without worker and environmental protections. And then bribing governments to keep it that way.  And hiring thugs to kill locals that complain.  Essentially this is the corporate equivalent of crimes against humanity, and officers of these corporations should be punished accordingly.  If you want to be serious, then crimes like these should be international in scope (any country can prosecute)

    2. That’s largely because it’s a huge advantage in the business world to be happy to kill people for money. I don’t see how the odd ethical person can make it. 

  2. Thorium isn’t particularly dangerous. It is heavy. It is not water soluble.  Your body won’t absorb it. You’d have to turn it into a powder and inhale it to have negative health effects.

    Here’s a video I made about THORIUM and how it is produced as a byproduct of rare earth mining…

    And here’s a discussion between 2 guys at TEAC4 about how dangerous thorium is…

    1. “Workers then boil off the liquid and separate out the rare earths from rock and radioactive elements. This is where things get dangerous: Companies must take precautions so that workers aren’t exposed to radiation. If the tailings ponds where the radioactive elements are permanently stored are improperly lined, they can leach into the groundwater. If they are not covered properly, the slurry could dry and escape as dust.”

      Edit: It’s obvious you know a lot more about this issue than the writer of the article (and certainly more than me), it just seems so much of this is dependent on companies doing things properly and staying transparent, which is hardly definite.

  3. I’m reminded of the health problems caused by the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons factory … except that cancer mortality rates in the area are below the national average. On the other hand, maybe that just means that radioactivity makes people stop smoking.

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