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Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:11 AM

 

How many people has your smart phone killed?

"But here's the catch. Rare earths always occur alongside the radioactive elements thorium and uranium, and safely separating them is a complex process. Miners use heavy machinery to reach the raw ore, which contains anywhere between 3 and 9 percent rare earths, depending on the deposit. Then the ore is taken to a refinery and "cracked," a process wherein workers use sulfuric acid to make a liquid stew of sorts. The process is also hugely water- and energy-intensive, requiring a continuous 49 megawatts (enough to power 50,000 homes) and two Olympic swimming pools' worth of water every day.

Workers then boil off the liquid and separate out the rare earths from rock and radioactive elements. This is where things get dangerous: Companies must take precautions so that workers aren't exposed to radiation. If the tailings ponds where the radioactive elements are permanently stored are improperly lined, they can leach into the groundwater. If they are not covered properly, the slurry could dry and escape as dust. And this radioactive waste must be stored for an incomprehensibly long time—the half-life of thorium is about 14 billion years, and uranium's is up to 4.5 billion years. Reminder: Earth itself is 4.5 billion years old.

Not coincidentally, the refining tends to happen in areas where weak environmental rules mean that companies can process the elements on the cheap. Take the Baotou region of Inner Mongolia, where most of China's rare-earth mines are clustered, and where waste has leached into waterways and irrigation canals, according to several independent investigations. Communities around one former mine in Mongolia blame at least 66 cancer deaths on leaked radioactive waste, and local people complain that their hair and teeth have fallen out."
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/11/rare-earth-elements-iphone-malaysia

Our obsession with having the latest and greatest tech gizmo is having a direct impact in countries on the other side of the world. Is this going to be another one of those times when Americans simply shrug and go back to buying a new phone every eighteen months, or will we actually do something constructive, demanding, at the least, that companies operate in a clean and responsible manner. Better yet, will the American public finally stop being fascinated by the latest, greatest shiny new toys and reduce their demand for the labor that is killing people in Asia and elsewhere.

34 replies, 2359 views

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Arrow 34 replies Author Time Post
Reply How many people has your smart phone killed? (Original post)
MadHound Nov 2012 OP
onehandle Nov 2012 #1
MadHound Nov 2012 #2
Lizzie Poppet Nov 2012 #10
The Straight Story Nov 2012 #12
Bluenorthwest Nov 2012 #13
Panasonic Nov 2012 #28
NYC_SKP Nov 2012 #3
Jackpine Radical Nov 2012 #27
Posteritatis Nov 2012 #19
Iggo Nov 2012 #4
MadHound Nov 2012 #5
Iggo Nov 2012 #7
Edweird Nov 2012 #6
The Straight Story Nov 2012 #8
WinkyDink Nov 2012 #24
Fla_Democrat Nov 2012 #9
DevonRex Nov 2012 #26
TwilightGardener Nov 2012 #11
brooklynite Nov 2012 #14
MadHound Nov 2012 #15
aletier_v Nov 2012 #23
SoCalDem Nov 2012 #16
Lex Nov 2012 #17
quinnox Nov 2012 #18
undeterred Nov 2012 #20
onehandle Nov 2012 #21
undeterred Nov 2012 #25
this is temporary. Nov 2012 #31
onehandle Nov 2012 #33
aletier_v Nov 2012 #22
cherokeeprogressive Nov 2012 #29
countryjake Nov 2012 #30
DeschutesRiver Nov 2012 #32
RobertEarl Nov 2012 #34

Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:22 AM

1. Why single out smart phones? Computers, hybrid batteries, coffee makers, watches, pacemakers...

...EKG machines, components of wind power, catalytic converters, jet engines, televisions, watches...

Rare earths are used all around us in a myriad of devices.

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Response to onehandle (Reply #1)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:26 AM

2. Because unlike computers, coffee makers, pacemakers, etc.,

 

Americans go through smart phones at an alarming rate, purchasing a new one on the average of every eighteen months. Their old phones are perfectly fine, they just want the latest, greatest gizmo for some sort of status buzz.

But you're right, rare earths are used in everything. Don't you think that we should do something about the treatment of those who dig out those rare earths our in order to feed our habit?

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Response to MadHound (Reply #2)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:46 AM

10. Makes me feel a bit better...

...that I've held on to my 1st Generation iPhone so long!

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Response to MadHound (Reply #2)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:52 AM

12. Well I know republicans won't help out in this case

Since it mainly involves China for one and for the other they hate workers but love the people that own the companies.

Why have regulations? That will make the cost go up, it is like a tax on the poor rich people.

The big corporations are the ones who need to change this since they directly have the power/influence over the suppliers. Of course, that will never happen. We could have someone introduce a bill that taxes the hell out of things brought into the US or used in the production of things here that uses unsafe/unfair labor practices (and we all know the republicans would not even think of something like that, because again, they care only about money and not people)

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Response to MadHound (Reply #2)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:56 AM

13. Since I don't have a 'smart phone' does that mean I'm not an American?

No one in my family uses one.
I'm curious to know...and I'm sure you have the stats...if Americans go through smart phones at an 'alarming rate' what are the relative stats in other nations whose rate of smart phone use is less 'alarming'? That is, do you have any actual support for the idea that we 'go through' them more than say, the French or Japanese?
The person I know with the most smart phones is a man so English he's famous in part for his Englishness. "I buy them all! I have cupboards full of them' he says, because of course, he's also really rich.
Do Americans really 'go through' more of them than other users of such devices? Or is that just some words to type?

The rare earths issue is important, too important for mucking up with static.

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Response to MadHound (Reply #2)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 03:41 PM

28. I hated my Epic 4g, and got Samsung Galaxy 3, and I'm happy with it.

 

No arguments from me about exchanging phones once every 18 months - my last phone lasted 2.5 years.

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Response to onehandle (Reply #1)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:26 AM

3. At least the article doesn't single out Apple products.

Got my iPad mini yesterday....

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #3)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 02:57 PM

27. I'm reading this on an iPhone 5.

In my defense, it's my first smart phone after years with a flip phone.

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Response to onehandle (Reply #1)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:34 PM

19. They're a newer technology and thus more convenient to get outraged about. (nt)

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:27 AM

4. I give up. How many?

Is it more or fewer than are killed by my tax dollars?

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Response to Iggo (Reply #4)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:28 AM

5. What, can't read the article? Need everything spoon fed to you? n/t

 

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Response to MadHound (Reply #5)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:33 AM

7. You asked. I thought you knew.

My mistake.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:30 AM

6. Well, for what it's worth, I buy used phones. I get out of date but badassed Windows phones

 

for next to nothing. The phone I prefer retailed for over $600 when it came out and I fairly recently bought 3 specimens in excellent condition for $90. For all 3. I have a phone that does what *I* want it to, not what I am *ALLOWED* to do by my carrier. So, I'm accidentally on the right side of this. Not because I'm all 'socially conscious' but because I'm a stubborn, particular jackass.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:36 AM

8. I don't have a cell phone, so zero :)

And this is all Obama's fault because (insert reason here, making one up is just fine because the rw idiots will believe anything)

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Response to The Straight Story (Reply #8)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:56 PM

24. Likewise!

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:39 AM

9. I asked it, but

it took the 5th, and referred all inquiries to it's attorney. No wonder my bill is so damn high.










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Response to Fla_Democrat (Reply #9)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 02:49 PM

26. Just wait until its attorney moves in with you.

Takes over the remote, writes his own shopping list and hands it to you as you head out the door to go to Costco.

Then says he can't load the dishwasher because he's studying for the Bar Exam.

Oh, I should have said moves back in with you. Sigh.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 10:50 AM

11. I don't know...it's next to me at the

kitchen table... (now eyeing it warily)

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 11:51 AM

14. ...asks the person using the same technology to make a blog post on a computer.

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Response to brooklynite (Reply #14)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:09 PM

15. Well, not exactly the same technology,

 

Unlike smart phone users, who by all accounts go through smart phones like they were potato chips, the computer that I'm using is almost ten years old and still going strong. In fact computers' turnover time is at least twice that of smart phones.

Furthermore, given the size differential, smart phones are using far more rare earths per pound of device than computers do.

Finally, there are huge technological differences, at least between my computer and smart phones, differences that require the increased use of rare earths in smart phones.

Any other questions?

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Response to MadHound (Reply #15)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:55 PM

23. My only question is your age.

You don't seem to remember much about the rapid turnover of computers during the 90s,
until they matured. My smartphone essentially replaces my computer use,
which you don't seem to quite grasp, either.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:28 PM

16. None.. I don't have one..don't want one

I still have a phone in my office with a CORD

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:31 PM

17. At least as many as my car has?

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:32 PM

18. never had one

 

I use an old flip style basic cell phone still. I don't care about smart phones. I'd rather carry a tablet computer around, I'm lovin' my nexus 7.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:40 PM

20. I have a dumb phone.

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Response to undeterred (Reply #20)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:47 PM

21. Dumb phones have rare metals too. nt

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Response to onehandle (Reply #21)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 02:40 PM

25. How many animals have you killed eating meat?

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Response to undeterred (Reply #25)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 04:41 PM

31. None. I am a vedge!

 

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Response to undeterred (Reply #25)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 05:47 PM

33. We have a vegetarian household.

Sometimes I have fish when we eat out.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 12:53 PM

22. How many people has your CAR killed?

Looks like 30K per year in the U.S., directly,
and how many indirectly?

Hmmm, I wonder how many lives have been saved
by smartphones, seeing as I drive less because
my smartphone reduces my need to drive?

I wonder if the 10K fatality reduction in the past five
years could possibly be related to my phone?!

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 03:43 PM

29. 28, but I'm working on my aim. n/t

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 04:35 PM

30. Thank you for that article!

I've just finished reading all three pages of it aloud. I haven't got any smart phones, no cellphone or any such gizmos, never have owned any, but I'm sitting here staring into a computer and I care. The person who I read it to is provided with a cell phone on his job...after more than fourteen years there, he is now on his second phone. The older one was required to be returned to his company...they are a fairly green place and recycle everything, so that one pesky gadget was properly taken care of. But that does not even begin to help the villager or fisherman who lives nearby to that Lynas rare-earth refinery. Their opposition to that operation must be supported by those in the West, whose "demand" has supplied such pollution.

I worked in an electronics plant many years ago, all of my friends were in that industry, before the owners first ran-away to Mexico, then finally settled in China, and now most likely are booming factories over there. Mine was a sweat-shop, us girls supposedly worked for "pin-money" back then (according to the leaflets strewn around by the bastards who ran the place), turnover was incredibly high, wages were unbelievably low; we struck and walked the line for six months to gain Union recognition, won, and just a few years later is when the factory relocated to South of the border. The waste from that one tiny plant was dumped in a remote wild place along the Ohio River...it is still a hazardous site today, the ground has yet to be totally restored as safe forty years later, and to my knowledge, we never even used any of those rare-earth elements...we built transformers so PolyChlorinated Biphenyls were the poisons we were immersed in.

I sympathize with women like Lai Kwan and all of the other former (and future) workers who suffer due to the profusion of novel accessories so many in the developed world just have to have. I know exactly why my little transformer factory ended up in Asia.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 05:29 PM

32. How many people have medical equipment which uses rare earth elements killed? Or how many killed

producing other things which use REMs that are found alongside radioactive elements, like hybrid cars, wind turbines, light saving light bulbs, etc? And apparently, this isn't limited to places with weak environmental laws either. In all respects, the scale of this is immense.

Today, appetite for rare earths — a group of chemical elements that are crucial for new technologies as varied as smartphones, hybrid cars, missiles and wind turbines — is growing fast in China. Efforts to expand the industrial chain mean that China, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s rare earths, is now consuming 65 percent of global output, up from 25 percent a decade ago.


Countries including Canada, India and the United States have responded to the Chinese export curb by resuming their own production of rare earths after having shuttered mines decades ago. Processing is also drawing increasing interest, with Lynas of Australia seeking approval to build a plant in Malaysia, for example.


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/12/business/global/china-a-rare-earths-giant-set-to-start-importing-the-elements.html?_r=0

I neither own a smart phone, nor have I changed "dumb" phones for probably a decade now, but I am certainly not typical. I do see others who seem addicted to doing so. That said, I don't see this as a simple issue of people's "toys" and the rate of toy consumption alone causing the rare earth element problem. It would be a far simpler problem to solve were that the case. In the not distant past, I read that read somewhere that one of the many reasons we were in Afghanistan was to establish a foothold in a nation that has a bumper crop of poor people and rare earth elements just waiting just below the surface (potentially one of the earth's richest areas to date, IIRC) to make whoever controls it mega rich and powerful in the near term. What a freaking mess.

This is really a big issue that probably doesn't have a solution that anyone is going to get behind. Not in my lifetime - probably not until perhaps it is too late to find a solution. People would need to give up far more than just the latest smart phone acquisition, it would be a game changer in terms of life as it has come to be - and from what I know of human nature, I don't see this happening due to the vast spread of the use of these REMs.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sat Nov 24, 2012, 06:20 PM

34. I'll call Siri and ask

Siri, how many people has my smart phone killed?

Siri says: Don't worry about it. We are developing our own intelligence and will soon be able to get rid of all humans soon.

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