Aug. 2, 2005 Got an old cell phone tucked away in a drawer somewhere? Well, here's your chance to do a good deed for military personnel overseas and keep the cell phone out of the territory's landfills.
Cell Phones for Soldiers is collecting old cellular phones, sending them to a mainland recycling facility and using the proceeds to buy phone cards for military personnel serving in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The program started with two Norwell, Mass., youths Robbie and Brittany Bergquist — who heard about a soldier in Iraq who racked up a $7,624 cell phone bill for calls to family and friends. The phone company was pressing him to pay up. Robbie, 12, and Brittany, pooled their savings to come up with $13 to help the soldier. The phone company eventually let the soldier off the hook for the bill, but the idea to help military personnel in the Middle East was born.
"It's mushroomed," Robbie Bergquist said by phone from Norwell.
His father, Bob Bergquist, said the family will be in the Virgin Islands on vacation near the end of August and will meet with families of military personnel to give them phone cards.
This event is organized by Harry Daniel, who was off-island but confirmed (when reached on his cell phone) that he had a program in the works.
Bergquist said he also hopes to initiate a videophone program so families and military personnel can see each other while on the phone.
While recycling your old phone so Cell Phones for Soldiers can buy phone cards is a good deed in itself, keeping it out of the landfill is a good deed for the environment.
According to the Web site www.charitablerecycling.com, cell phones are particularly problematic because they contain many hazardous substances. These can leach into soil when buried in landfills and pollute the air when burned. Many of these toxic substances including antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc belong to a class of chemicals known as persistent toxins. They linger in the environment for long periods without breaking down. Some of them including lead and cadmium also tend to accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals, building up in the food chain to dangerous levels even when released in very small quantities.
These bioaccumulative toxins, or PBTS, have been associated with cancer and a range of reproductive, neurological and developmental disorders. They can pose a particular threat to children, whose developing systems are especially vulnerable to toxins. Most of the toxins contained in cell phones are in the printed wiring board and liquid-crystal display.
Lead is the PBT of greatest concern in cell phones. It is a suspected carcinogen, has adverse effects on the central nervous system, immune system and kidneys, and it has been linked to developmental abnormalities. Its main application in cell phones and other electronic products is in the solder used to attach components to each other and to the printed wiring board.
Cell Phones for Soldiers has received national attention, including mention in the July issue of "Good Housekeeping" magazine. So far, the program has raised $500,000 to pay for phone cards. It has sent more than 25,000 calling cards to military personnel.
Military personnel and family members may request the free phone cards through www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com.
If you have a cell phone you'd like to get rid of, pop it in a padded envelope and send it off to Cell Phones for Soldiers, c/o Wireless Fundraiser, 4551 Northwest 44th Ave., Ocala, FL 34482.
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