Why Is Antimony Used in Cell Phones?

by Joe Friedman
Improperly discarded antimony from cell phone batteries can become poisonous stibine gas.

Improperly discarded antimony from cell phone batteries can become poisonous stibine gas.

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According to many environmental impact reports, studies and articles, the element antimony is one of many dangerous toxic materials commonly found in discarded cell phone waste. Other toxic chemicals mentioned include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc. Some of these chemicals are sources of cancer, neurological disorders or lethal poisons. Antimony is a component of the phone's lead-acid battery, rather than of the main phone itself.

Lead-Acid Batteries

In a lead-acid battery, a series of lead plates support a solution of sulfuric acid. As the battery discharges, the acid turns into lead sulfide; the opposite occurs when the battery recharges. As it happens, lead is a weak material and cannot support the acid on its own. Engineers therefore normally alloy it with another mineral -- oftentimes with antimony.

Dangerous Gases

When a battery containing antimony is in a charged or overcharged state and allowed to deteriorate, there's a possibility of it interacting with the hydrogen in the sulfuric acid and generating the poisonous gas stibine. Sometimes these batteries may contain arsenic as well, which can also combine with hydrogen into a lethal gas form.

How Much Antimony Is Out There?

According to an Associated Press report, by the middle of the 2000s the average cell phone owner kept his device only about 18 months. That was leading to the disposing of about 130 million cell phones, many with batteries containing antimony, every year. The majority of a lead-acid battery is the lead alloy, and it normally contains up to 5 percent antimony.

Proper Disposal

To protect the environment and keep people safe, numerous charitable organizations accept the donations of old cell phones. When replacing only the battery in a cellphone, look for collection bins for old and used batteries at libraries, home improvement stores and other locations. Using these collection bins ensures the antimony-containing batteries are either recycled or disposed of in an eco-friendly manner.

About the Author

Joe Friedman began writing in 2008 while in the U.S. Air Force as a KC-10 tanker pilot. He is now an equipment engineer in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Friedman holds a Bachelor of Science in engineering physics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Drexel University.

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