John Boudreau, San Jose Mercury News


An Oakland environmental group, alleging that the popular iPhone contains a reproductive toxin that violates California law, filed a complaint Monday against Apple.

The Center for Environmental Health filed its complaint under the state's Proposition 65 law, which stipulates that products that expose the public to chemicals that are reproductive toxins or carcinogens must carry a warning label or be taken off the market. The agency based its claim on a Greenpeace report, which discovered phthalates, a group of chemicals that can cause birth defects, in the vinyl plastic earphone wiring.

"We want the company to take the toxic chemicals out of the product and make it safer," said the center's spokesman, Charles Margulis.

Apple has 60 days to respond. A spokesman for the company was not available late Monday.

Phthalates is banned in toys in San Francisco and the European Union.

"This isn't a toy. But the overall exposure of the public in general is a problem, especially for children," said Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace's toxics campaign. "It's a reproductive hazard. It could be a kidney hazard."

The complaint comes at a time Apple has begun working closely with environmental groups. Last spring, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled new environmental policies. In response, Trillium Asset Management withdrew an environmental-policy resolution that shareholders were to vote on at the Cupertino company's annual meeting in May.

"Apple has been paying attention to its environmental profile in the past few years," said Bill Walker, a vice president of the Environmental Working Group in Oakland. "But it's still under fire for a lot of things. You can't replace batteries in iPods, so all those iPods are being thrown away."

Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, said the new complaint underscored the difficulties facing consumer tech companies, which rely on complex supply chains.

"It's an extraordinary challenge to manage the thousands of suppliers and potentially millions of chemicals involved in the products," he said. "Twenty years ago, most of the brand-name computer and electronics companies manufactured their own products. They knew what was in their products because they controlled the entire supply chain. Now virtually all of that is being outsourced to contractors and subcontractors."