Can Chemicals in My Computer Harm Me?

You're protected, but protect the environment when you discard it


Q: I read your recent article about recycling computers and wanted to know more about what kind of toxic chemicals are inside. Can they harm the user?

A: First of all let me put your mind at ease — while there are toxic chemicals in computers, they exist in trace amounts that are unlikely to harm a human, and the computer case shields you from them. The problem arises when toss a bunch of them into a landfill. That’s why we need to manage our e-Waste.

In 2006 Greenpeace X-rayed a number of laptops to see what kind of toxic chemicals they held. They found that circuit boards contained the heavy metals Cadmium and Beryllium. The steel inside had hexavalent chromium baked into it. The wires contained PVC and the fans were coated in flame-retardent BFRs. The LCDs contained Mercury. But again, we’re talking trace amounts that are hidden away behind a plastic or aluminum case. Keep your kids from playing around inside and you should be fine.

Our worries shouldn’t be so much about how our computer’s chemical components might harm us, but how they might harm the environment after we’re done with them.

If you have a computer ready for the afterlife, don't throw it in the trash. Drop it off Tuesday through Saturday at the city's Household Hazardous Waste Facility located at 2675 Commonwealth Ave.

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