Taking apart the occasional piece of old hardware can be fun and educational at the same time, but should you be worried that the hardware in question may contain hazardous materials? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answers to a worried reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Photo courtesy of Taran Rampersad (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader L.B. wants to know if there are any hazardous materials in an old hard-drive he should be worried about before taking it apart:

I have an old laptop at my disposal that has a malfunctioning hard-drive in it. I would really enjoy taking the drive apart and looking at it. However, I would like to ensure that I am not going to end up with lead poisoning or any thing like that.

So, my question is, are there any health hazards associated with the contents of an internal hard-drive (that was placed in a computer manufactured in 2004)? I am not worried about doing damage to the hard drive or the computer, just me!

Are there any hazardous materials that L.B. needs to worry about, or can he go ahead and have fun tearing his old hard-drive apart?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors Tonny and Ex Umbris have the answer for us. First up, Tonny:

No problem.

There could be a small amount of lead in the solder (if the soldering dates from before ROHS compliancy), but it is locked up in the material. It will not escape unless you take a Dremel or drill to the printed circuit board, or heat it in any way.

And even then, the amount is so tiny. You will end up with far more lead from air-pollution by car-exhausts if you live near a highway or in a city. Same goes for chemicals in the PCB and/or electrical components. As long as you do not cut or drill into them, it is no problem at all.

People who assemble these things do not take any special precautions either. And they handle far more of them than you ever will.

Followed by the answer from Ex Umbris:

The only “danger” I have ever encountered are the voice-coil permanent magnets. If you were to pinch some flesh between them, you could end up with a minor but painful hematoma or laceration.

When separated by a small distance (3-4 mm), they can exert several kilograms of force, which increases quadratically as they get closer together. If you let them stick together, it will require significant force and a wedge of some kind to separate them.

I have a couple of dozen pairs in a desk drawer.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya
Akemi Iwaya has been part of the How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media team since 2009. She has previously written under the pen name "Asian Angel" and was a Lifehacker intern before joining How-To Geek/LifeSavvy Media. She has been quoted as an authoritative source by ZDNet Worldwide.
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