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Sourcing The Batteries That Power Your Smartphone46:56
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Beyond Samsung’s burning phones, we look at the human toll in mines and factories that source lithium batteries.

In this April 10, 2004 file photo, a young man carries wet Cobalt on his back at the Shinkolobwe Cobalt mine, situated 35km from the town of Likasi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Schalk van Zuydam/AP)
In this April 10, 2004 file photo, a young man carries wet Cobalt on his back at the Shinkolobwe Cobalt mine, situated 35km from the town of Likasi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Schalk van Zuydam/AP)

When it comes to smartphone batteries, most of us just want them smaller and stronger. Then Samsung’s phone batteries start bursting into flame and get our attention. Lithium batteries – like those in hover boards and electric cars. My guests today say we should pay more attention to what’s in those batteries. The dangers and human costs. In mines in Congo and villages in China. This hour On Point, we’ll look at what really went wrong at Samsung, and the hidden costs of lithium batteries. — Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Brian Barrett, senior writer at WIRED Magazine. (@brbarrett)

Todd Frankel, reporter at the Washington Post. (@tcfrankel)

Peter Whoriskey, reporter at the Washington Post. (@peterwhoriskey)

Don Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (@dsadoway)

From Tom’s Reading List

WIRED: The Note 7 Meltdown Will Haunt Samsung for a Long, Long Time — "Samsung’s latest step is absolutely the right thing to do. The fault in its Galaxies isn’t muddled reception or chipped finishes. The battery malfunction at the root of the issue can cause serious damage and bodily harm. But it’s also going to have serious implications for the company, and for a long time to come."

Washington Post: The cobalt pipeline: From dangerous tunnels in Congo to consumers’ mobile tech — "The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is at times met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, government officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say."

Washington Post: In Your Phone, In Their Air — "Smaller and more powerful than their predecessors, lithium batteries power smartphones and laptop computers and appear destined to become even more essential as companies make much larger ones to power electric cars. The companies making those products promote the bright futuristic possibilities of the 'clean' technology. But virtually all such batteries use graphite, and its cheap production in China, often under lax environmental controls, produces old-fashioned industrial pollution."

This program aired on October 17, 2016.

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