…iPhones?

We should ignore the warnings of the environmentalists and keep playing those itunes.

Nathalie Rothschild

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Topics Politics

Nathalie Rothschild says we should ignore the warnings of the environmentalists and keep playing those itunes.

Soon after Arnold Schwarzenegger said ‘hasta la vista’ to phthalates in California, environmentalists based in the Sunny State claimed that while phthalates help bendiness, too much can be bad for you.

No, phthalates is not the latest American exercise fad, but a family of organic compounds used to increase the flexibility of plastic in products including toys, clothes, flooring, wire-coating, tubing, surgical gloves, blood bags – and iPhones, the latest must-have product by Apple. Last week, following the Chinese ‘toxic toys’ panic in the US, Schwarzenegger signed a bill banning phthalates in children’s products in California. Now, after a report by the environmentalist stunt specialists Greenpeace claimed the sleek iPhone contains dangerous levels of bromine, chlorine and phthalates, the California-based Centre for Environmental Health (CEH) has given Apple 60 days to ‘green’ its mobile phone.

Greenpeace’s attack on the iPhone is the organisation’s latest effort to ‘expose’ Apple’s environmental record. Greenpeace acknowledges that Apple’s products are hugely popular and is not asking Apple lovers to stop using them, but to demand ‘a new, cool product: a greener Apple’. Environmentalist campaigns like Greenpeace’s ‘Green My Apple’ pass themselves off as cool, radical attacks on evil corporations that sell us shiny products supposedly packed with poison. But the ‘toxic iPhone’ scare is just part of a wider attack on ‘conspicuous consumption’. The iPhone is the latest fad, which is most probably already at the top of many Christmas wish lists, and that is why environmentalists are focusing on it.

According to the Green My Apple website, used Apple products end up in developing countries like China and India where children ‘dismantle them for parts, and are exposed to a dangerous toxic cocktail that threatens their health and the environment’. Greenpeace is effectively claiming that Westerners using products such as iPods and iMacs are poisoning Chinese and Indian children to death. Coupled with the scare stories of Chinese-manufactured toys killing Western kids, it’s beginning to seem like we’re experiencing global murder-by-toys-and-iPhones.

According to Greenpeace, the level of phthalate esters (a group of chemicals linked to birth defects in laboratory mice and rats) in the plastic coating of iPhone earphones wires is greater than that allowed in toys or childcare items sold in Europe. But the iPhone is not a children’s product and, besides, the European Union introduced restrictions on the use of phthalate softening agents in December 1999 and in 2004, 20 ‘temporary restrictions’ later, it banned the use of all phthalate softening agents in toys and products intended for children under the age of three.

As Bill Durodié, author of Why Did the European Union Ban Phthalates?, points out, in 2004 research commissioned by the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, ‘had already concluded that the chance of a child exceeding the recommended limits through exposure to products containing phthalates was ‘so rare that the statistical likelihood cannot be estimated’. The EU ban is so ‘precautionary’ that it precludes risks that are too small to measure.

CEH chief executive Michael Green claims that ‘if a pregnant woman is winding and unwinding that [iPhone earphones] cord a number of times each day, like we all would, she is getting exposed to this chemical’.

I don’t know how Green manages to get his cords and facts so tangled up. Even if a pregnant woman spent days on end untangling her iPhone earphone wires, it seems highly unlikely that its tiny level of phthalate esters would penetrate her skin, get into her womb and damage her baby.

At the height of this summer’s scare around toys coated with lead-based paint, Mattel, the toy manufacturer, voluntarily recalled 1.5million such products even though ‘no cases of any harm to children [had] been reported’. At the time, an expert toxicologist in Canada pointed out that it is ‘continuous sucking on such toys and putting them in the mouth for days at a stretch that is hazardous’. (See Toxic toys: is China poisoning YOUR child?, by Brendan O’Neill.)

Like the ‘toxic toys’ scare, Greenpeace’s and CEH’s attack on ‘toxic iPhones’ raises fears without any substantial proof for its supposed detrimental effects. The outcome is a heightened mood of nervousness and distrust while sacrificing the availability of effective and attractive products.

Let’s call for Apple to give this iScare campaign a miss.

Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor at spiked. She is producer of the film strand at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on 27-28 October.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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