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Greenpeace: iPhone crit makes for more headlines

And the bromine business fights back

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Speaking of BFRs, this second, Register Hardware-inspired round of Greenpeace scepticism follows a statement put out by the Bromine Science and Environment Forum (BSEF), a bromine chemical industry trade body. It essentially accuses Greenpeace of poor testing and scaremongering, though it has a vested interest in maintaining the use of BFRs.

For instance, it says Greenpeace doesn't know which BFRs are present the iPhone because it only tested for the presence to bromine, and without that knowledge all the NGO can do is "raise an alarm without any basis for doing so".

However, even the BSEF has to admit there are BFRs in the iPhone - it doesn't know which ones, either - so it can't really claim the NGO is wrong in this regard. The BSEF also speculates - a fault it's quick to accuse Greenpeace of - that the BFRs are "reactive" and thus bonded within a plastic at manufacture, a process that prevents the BFRs from escaping into the environment. But, again, it doesn't know this. At least Greenpeace did base its own report on lab findings.

Europe's WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulations enforce the removal of BFRs from products like the iPhone when they're disposed of properly, though it can do nothing about old kit that's dumped by its former user or, as Greenpeace points out, equipment that's dismantled by hand.

That's one reason why Europe's Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) regulations ban the use of three BFRs - Penta-BDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers), Octa-BDEs and PBBs (Polybrominated Biphenyls) - in all new kit sold over here from 1 July 2006. Apple maintains its products, wherever in the world they are sold, are within RoHS limits.

But not all BFRs are convered by RoHS, and its these others include as Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), a compound used primarily to protect circuit boards from fires. If Apple's makes good its pledge, Macs, iPods, iPhones etc will not contain even these substances from 1 January 2009.

Even the BSEF admits there are alternative flame-retardant products to BFRs, though it's quick to suggest these are somehow unknown quantities: "None are as well known or as well tested."

Well, there's a major business opportunity if there ever was one: get testing these BFR-alternatives with a view to bringing them to market in time for Apple's end-of-2008 deadline. Register Hardware will expect a cut from anyone who pursues this idea.

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