Chemical Dissonance in Headphones

13. jul 2015

Test reveals undesirable chemicals in 5 of 16 headphones. These disruptors of the endocrine system and carcinogens are unacceptable in consumer products according to Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals. 

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headphones phtalates
Photo: Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

16 headphones tested

You download music on your iPod or smartphone, the headphones close around your ears, and the latest album from your favorite artist flows into your ears. However, your ears are not just receptive to rhythmic beats and catchy refrains. They are receptive also to the materials that go into making your headphones.

Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has tested 16 headphones for questionable chemicals. Here we found phthalate in two pairs, PAHs in two pairs, and in one case organostannic compounds.

”It is unacceptable for headphones to contain problematic chemicals, such as phthalate, that disrupt the endocrine system. We are in very close skin contact with headphones, and we wear them over long periods. Headphones are also a product that to a great extent is used by the very young,” says project manager at Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals, Stine Müller.

She points out that the found phthalates are banned in toys in concentrations above 0.1 percent.

Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals tests for phthalate and organostannic compounds, because these may be disruptive to the endocrine system. They are under suspicion for things like causing earlier puberty in girls and decreasing sperm quality in boys. PAHs – a tar substance – can be a carcinogenic.

Phthalates in Tiger headphones

In one set of headphones from the retail chain Tiger, Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals recorded the hormonally disruptive phthalate DEHP in the earpiece at a level of nine percent.

Tiger says that in this particular case, they have replaced the materials in the earpiece, making the addition of the undesirable phthalates no longer necessary.

In a set of headphones labelled Green Apple – which are hardly distinguishable from headphones from Apple – Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals found softening phthalate in the wire and the earpiece. The content of DIBP, DINP and DEHP totalled 18 percent.

High concentrations of tar at B&O

For Bang & Olufsen and Bose, the concentration of PAHs is problematically high.

Bang & Olufsen’s headphones contained more of the most undesirable tars, among them benz(a)pyrene. The content in B&O’s headphones is not illegal. It is, however, above the threshold for the German seal of approval GS, Geprüft Sicherheit.

Unnecessary risk

Another set of headphones from Bose contained questionable substances in the form of organostannic compounds. This is also not a prohibited level. It does constitute, however, a completely unnecessary risk of being exposed to substances that can both disrupt the endocrine system and affect the immune system.

Of the tested headphones, only Beats by Dr. Dre and Sennheiser have managed to produce a product that is completely free of questionable substances.

For further information, please contact project manager in Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals, Stine Müller, at tel. (0045) 41 94 79 06 or e-mail sm@fbr.dk.

Translated from Danish by Lisbeth Agerskov Christensen