Greenpeace: Game consoles contain environmental hazards

Games consoles contain toxic chemicals that would not be allowed in young children's toys, even though the technology to eliminate them is available, according to a study by environmental lobby group Greenpeace. However, manufacturers are starting to eliminate some toxic chemicals from their products, Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace analyzed a PlayStation 3, a Wii and an Xbox 360 Elite for its report "Playing Dirty," published Tuesday.

The consoles, all bought in Europe last November, appeared to comply with the recently introduced European Union legislation on the reduction of hazardous substances (RoHS), as Greenpeace found no mercury or cadmium, and only trace amounts of lead and chromium. Some chemicals may have slipped by the testers, as Greenpeace did not have the resources to analyze every single component in the devices, it said.

However, the consoles all contained toxic or undesirable chemicals such as beryllium, found in circuit board contacts; PVC, found in electrical insulation; phthalates, used to soften plastics, and bromine, used as a fire retardant. Phthalates can have an effect on sexual development, especially in males, and some are banned from children's toys and childcare articles, especially if they can be chewed. (Game consoles are not considered toys under European legislation.) The other chemicals typically cause problems when products are disposed of: in landfill they can lead to pollution of water supplies, while if incinerated, they may release toxic particles into the atmosphere. Beryllium poses the biggest hazard to workers involved in recycling, Greenpeace said.

Use of the toxic chemicals varied greatly between consoles, although no one console stood out as "cleaner" than any other, Greenpeace said: the manufacturers have much to learn from one another.

For example, Sony avoided the use of bromine in two of the circuit boards in its PS3, the only manufacturer to do so, while Greenpeace found no trace of beryllium in the Nintendo Wii's circuitry. But those two consoles contained the highest level of bromine overall, at 13.8 percent and 12.5 percent respectively: the Xbox lead the way in reducing the use of brominated materials in its plastic casing. The Xbox, on the other hand was the only one to contain a phthalate, DiNP, that is prohibited from use in toys and childcare articles if children can place them in their mouth.

Greenpeace published a similar study of phones, PCs and PDAs (personal digital assistants) in March. It had hoped to include game consoles in that report, but Nintendo's failure to respond in time led it to delay publication of its analysis of the consoles.

Subscribe to the Create Newsletter

Comments