Smartphones have become an integral tool of society; in the year 2017, approximately 30% of the global population used smartphones. After their life cycle of use, most smartphones are not recycled and are instead discarded as e-waste, which increases the probability that chemicals they contain will eventually be released into the natural environment. In this study, the concentration and distribution of 52 major flame retardant (FR) chemicals were measured in eight components of seven models of largely produced smartphones. The results demonstrated that organophosphate esters (OPEs) were the principal FRs in these smartphone devices, while a suite of halogenated flame retardants (HFRs), including 25 polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), were not detected. Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) was the primary FR in the smartphones, followed by tris(2-butoxyethyl) phosphate (TBOEP), 2-ethylhexyl diphenyl phosphate (EHDPP), triethyl phosphate (TEP), tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), and tris(2-chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCIPP), respectively. The average smartphone contained 3.37 × 107 ng TPHP/unit, which was concentrated in the phone screen. We estimated the annual amount of ΣOPEs and TPHP in smartphones used globally to be 53.5 and 51.8 tons, respectively. Extracts of phone screens were further analyzed by use of an untargeted screening strategy, and other 10 organic chemicals were identified. Interestingly, 3 out of them shared similar backbone structure of TPHP, and these 3 chemicals were tri(2,4-di-t-butylphenyl) phosphate (TDTBPP; CAS No. 95906–11–9), 2-biphenylol diphenyl phosphate (BPDPP; 132–29-6), and tris (2-biphenyl) phosphate (TBPHP; 132–28-5). Collectively, this study provided the first information on distribution of major FRs in different components of smartphones, and also identified other 10 current-use organic chemicals including three novel aryl OPEs which should be considered in further environmental studies including in toxicological and monitoring programs.

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Science of the Total Environment
Department of Biology

Zhang, Y. (Y.), Su, H. (Huijun), Ya, M. (Miaolei), Li, J. (Jianhua), Ho, S.-H. (Shih-Hsin), Zhao, L. (Luming), … Su, G. (Guanyong). (2019). Distribution of flame retardants in smartphones and identification of current-use organic chemicals including three novel aryl organophosphate esters. Science of the Total Environment, 693. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133654