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Leaching of environmental contaminants from smartphones and their toxicity to marine organisms


Rapid development, increasing demands and short lifespans of electronic equipment causes high generation of electronic waste (e-waste). In 2019 alone, approximately 1.5 billion smartphones were sold world-wide, with around 1.7 million smartphones sold in Norway. Mobile phones, especially smartphones are composed of different materials, including toxic metals such as nickel, copper, zinc, silver, cadmium and lead, several of the rare earth elements (praseodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium) and organic chemicals, e.g. flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals. E-waste can thus pose an environmental threat, when not properly handled. In this study we determine which potential toxicants leach from smartphones into seawater, and further study effects of leachates on lower trophic marine organisms. Mobile phones of the same brand and type were shattered and incubated in natural, unfiltered seawater under gentle agitation (20 °C, darkness). Water samples are taken after 1 week, 1 month and 2 month and are analysed for elemental concentrations (including toxic metals) with ICP-MS and screened for organic contaminants using targeted LC-MS/MS approaches. Incubation in seawater resulted in a rapid release/formation of large amounts of fine particles. Preliminary results showed that both the dissolved (particles removed with centrifugation) and total (particulate and dissolved) fraction of the 1-week leachate inhibited the growth of the marine algae Skeletonema pseudocostatum, with the total fraction causing larger effects. Further, the total fraction increased mortality in the marine copepod Acartia tonsa. Elemental and chemical analyses, as well as additional toxicological investigations of the longer-term leachates are currently in progress.




  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 301236
  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 281093





  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Unknown

Presented at

Norwegian Environmental Toxicology Symposium




04.11.2020 - 05.11.2020


University of Bergen



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