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Hazardous components and substances

Hazardous components and substances

The following dangerous components and substances may be contained in batteries and waste electrical and electronic equipment from the following collection and processing categories:

Potential hazards from electrical appliances and devices

The following hazardous components, materials and substances may be present in large electrical appliances as well as smaller appliances and devices:

  • PCB-containing capacitors in older equipment (washing machines, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, etc.).
    In new machines, capacitors containing PCBs have been replaced by less dangerous electrolytic capacitors. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic and carcinogenic chlorine compounds.
  • Mercury switches in older equipment (washing machines, steam irons, heating units, etc.).
    Mercury switches are rarely found in new machines. Mercury is an extremely toxic heavy metal. Mercury switches contain liquid mercury which can evaporate at room temperature if the switch breaks open.
  • Asbestos-containing heaters and radiators.
    Asbestos was primarily used as a fire retardant. Asbestos is no longer used in new machines. Asbestos fibres collect in the lungs and can have carcinogenic effects.
  • PCB-containing heat transfer oils in oil heaters.
    These are mainly found in older heaters; heat transfer oils containing PCBs are no longer used in new units. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic and carcinogenic chlorine compounds.
  • Printed circuit boards.
    When recycling printed circuit boards, any components containing mercury, as well as larger electrolytic capacitors, batteries and accumulators, and LCD displays must first be removed.

Potential hazards with coolers, refrigerators and freezers

The following hazardous components, materials and substances are found in coolers, refrigerators and freezers:

  • CFC-based coolants and propellants.
    Most refrigerators and freezers that currently need to be disposed of contain CFC-based refrigerants (in the cooling circuit) and propellants (in the insulating foam). However, the danger associated with hydrocarbons halogenated with chlorine and bromine (CFCs are halons), first identified in the 1980s, is that they have a major destructive effect on the ozone layer, which absorbs dangerous UV radiation from sunlight in the stratosphere, and also contribute to the greenhouse effect. As a result, their use in new appliances has been banned in Austria since 1995 under the CFC/Halon Prohibition Order.
  • Hydrocarbon-based coolants and propellants.
    After CFC-based refrigerators and freezers were banned, the search was on for alternative coolants and propellants. This led to the development of hydrocarbon- or HC-based refrigeration equipment. These devices contain volatile organic compounds such as propane/butane mixtures, and especially cyclopentane. These hydrocarbons are heavily involved in the formation of ozone in the lower layer of the atmosphere (the troposphere), and therefore contribute to ozone pollution. Ozone acts as an irritant when breathed into the lungs, and can cause inflammation. Cyclopentane evaporates at 20° C and can be toxic when inhaled. Leaking cyclopentane can also cause a fire or explosion hazard.
  • PCB-containing capacitors (in older equipment).
    PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic and carcinogenic chlorine compounds. In new machines, capacitors containing PCBs have been replaced by less dangerous electrolytic capacitors.
  • Mercury switches (in older equipment).
    Mercury is an extremely toxic heavy metal. Mercury switches contain liquid mercury, which evaporates at room temperature. Mercury switches are rarely found in new machines.

Potential hazards with display devices

The following hazardous components, materials and substances may be present in display devices:

  • Screen coatings made of cadmium sulphide and/or yttrium compounds.
    Cadmium is a toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal, while yttrium is a member of the group of rare-earth metals and is also classified as toxic.
  • Getters.
    A getter is a small deposit of chemically reactive material that helps to maintain a vacuum as long as possible. Getters contain barium compounds that are hazardous to human health.
  • Liquid crystal displays (LCDs).
    LCD displays are classified as hazardous waste, and may contain carcinogenic azo dyes.
  • Barium, yttrium, and europium compounds as luminescent materials in plasma screens.
    The earth alkali metal barium and its water-soluble compounds are toxic. Europium and yttrium are members of the group of rare-earth metals, and are also considered toxic.
  • Mercury-containing fluorescent tubes (in flat-screen displays).
    Mercury is a toxic heavy metal.
  • Printed circuit boards.
    When recycling printed circuit boards, any components containing mercury, as well as larger electrolytic capacitors, batteries and accumulators, and LCD displays must first be removed.
  • Batteries (e.g. in laptops).
    The following hazardous materials are found in various types of batteries and accumulators (rechargeable elements for the storage of electrical energy): mercury (toxic heavy metal), cadmium (toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal), nickel (carcinogenic effects of nickel and nickel alloys in the form of dust and aerosols that can be inhaled), lead (toxic heavy metal), lithium (water pollutant), manganese dioxide (water pollutant), sulphuric acid (water pollutant), concentrated lyes (water pollutants).

Potential hazards with gas-discharge lamps

The following hazardous components, materials and substances are found in gas-discharge lamps:

  • Yttrium and europium compounds in fluorescent dust.
    Yttrium and europium are members of the group of rare-earth metals, and are considered toxic. It is especially important to ensure that gas-discharge lamps do not break in transport, to avoid potential injuries from glass that is coated with fluorescent dust.
  • Mercury-containing fluorescent tubes.
    Mercury is a toxic heavy metal.
  • Barium cathodes.
    Barium compounds are classified as hazardous to human health.

Potential hazards with batteries

The following hazardous materials are found in various types of batteries and accumulators (rechargeable elements for the storage of electrical energy). Therefore, batteries must always be collected separately:

  • mercury (toxic heavy metal),
  • cadmium (toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal),
  • nickel (carcinogenic effects of nickel and nickel alloys in the form of dust and aerosols that can be inhaled),
  • lead (toxic heavy metal),
  • lithium (water pollutant),
  • manganese dioxide (water pollutant),
  • sulphuric acid (water pollutant),
  • concentrated lyes (water pollutants).