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True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

Posted March 24, 2011 9:02 AM by Steve Melito

Earlier this week, a friend from Florida forwarded me an email that bore the logo "Surgical Services, University of Miami" at the bottom. The subject line at the top read "Unplug Your Cell Phone Charger Everyone. Please Be Careful!" This all seemed pretty silly to me - a cell phone won't work if don't charge it - so I kept reading.

Here's what the email said.

"A few days ago, a person was recharging his mobile phone at home. Just at that time a call came in and he answered it with the charging instrument still connected to the outlet. After a few seconds, electricity flowed into the cell phone unrestrained and the young man was thrown to the floor with a heavy thud. The phone actually exploded. His parents rushed to the room only to find him unconscious, with a weak heartbeat and burnt fingers. He was rushed to the nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival."

The email I received included several images, all of which came from a website called equla3.com. The photo at top left seemed the least likely to turn your stomach, so that's the one I've included here. This image also provides a view of the "scene of the crime", where an unfortunate of victim of electronic ignorance met his demise.

Is he the only "victim", however? Or is anyone who believes this email a victim of an urban legend / Internet hoax? In other words, is it truly dangerous to use a cell phone while it's charging? What do you think?

Photo Credit:eqla3.com

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#1

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 9:31 AM

This smells like a hoax.

I tried the link eqla3.com, but unusable for me. Do you have another?

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 9:57 AM

Thanks for your comment, Doorman. While I don't have another link, I do commend your courage (and your antivirus software) for trying to reach eqla3.com. I debated even mentioning them, but knew that giving them a photo credit (if not an outright hyperlink) was the right thing to do.

As a writer, one of the things that smells "rotten" about this is that the language doesn't sound like it came out of South Florida. That's not meant to be a criticism of how folks from other parts of the globe like their English; rather, it's just something that tips the scales towards "hoax".

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 12:56 PM

You admit it's questionable but that didn't stop you from posting it as fact on the electronic components blog

consider fulfilling your obligation as a senior staff member on this site & fact check

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 1:09 PM

I did not post the alleged explosion as "fact". The only facts are the details from the email message I received and shared. Whether you believe this incident is a "fact" is up to you, a professional engineer capable of critical analysis based on education and training. Also, I see but a single comment that debunks the explosion on a technological basis. Perhaps the community is waiting for me to do so, but is that really necessary? Some input from, say, a cell phone designer would be quite valuable. Do we have one in the house?

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 1:23 PM

What happened to being able to post AP?

As a member of upper management your conduct should set the example, not be an example why there needs to be moderation

Personal attack much?

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#9
In reply to #8

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 1:26 PM

Upper management? Thanks for the compliment, but that's not my Jaguar in the parking lot.

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#26
In reply to #8

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 11:00 AM

So which part is the personal attack?

Apparently my skin must be thick enough since I never got anything out of his reply that gave me a second thought or concern.

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#30
In reply to #26

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 11:07 PM

The personal attack was removed without a trace

instead of the usual breadcrumb, indicating moderation had taken place....

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#32
In reply to #30

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/26/2011 10:45 PM

Then it would not be the first time that moderators, management, or someone of similar position got their undies pulled up too tight over my general observations and comments then made an post or an entire thread magically disappear to save their butts face.

Heck I hang out at http://www.electro-tech-online.com/ and I have been given a few week long bannings based on made up rules and infraction violations just for apparently winning too many arguments against the wrong people or persons and have had multiple threads completely wiped away when when certain persons embarrassed dug a hole to deep to get themselves out of too many times.

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#14
In reply to #7

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 10:37 PM

Why is it 'obvious' on a technological basis?

Typically cell phone charges run at 5V. This is harmless. The typical plug-pac is a double insulated transformer - with or without rectification on the output - depending on the phone.

Double insulation [indicated on the pac by the 'square in a square' international symbol] is typically 1000 V minimum - or more, depending on the country.

This one appears to be a UK compatible unit (240/260 Vac) so will be to UK requirements.

So the pac can be regarded as insulated beyond 'mains spikes'.

Typically such transformers have a built in thermal fuse or overload.

But; assuming a massive mains spike, the pac and output cable cannot carry significant VA. The cable is only a few hundred mA capable, and being copper is positive temperature coefficient - meaning when heated gains resistance, so self heats, and so on, till it melts.

I.e the out put lead would fry well before the level of energy, to cause the 'alleged damage', or 'explode' a phone was reached. The lead is, in effect, a current limiting resistor/slow-blow fuse. Then there is the voltage control and charging circuit in the phone to overcome - which is only minor current and voltage capable - before it go's open circuit.

Next as said by tcmtech, you need a circuit to earth. None is apparent [as discussed] in fact it looks the the most difficult place to find an earthy contact.

So;

A. 'Normal' mains spikes could not have done this

B. There are zero symptoms of abnormal spike or lightening in the hardware.

C. if it was lightning, evidence throughout the house would make a different Headline altogether.

Or it is instantly obvious to "a professional engineer capable of critical analysis based on education and training" this is utter BS

Given it's obviously a hoax some umbrage at the question even being posted on CR4 can only be expected.

So, I don't think shots at members are called for, when it's clearly "why should I waste my time explaining the frigging obvious"

I think if Admin wish to put this sort of "web nonsense" up for 'discussion' - maybe create a "Web Nonsense" thread? Like 'caption this' - 'This weeks WN'?

Then at least 'browsers' would know CR4 regards it as such.

And I'm sure it would get a better reception all round.

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#17
In reply to #14

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 7:56 AM

Or you could always ignore it and go to something else.

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#28
In reply to #17

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 11:36 AM

Maybe he works in an industry that could be adversely affected by the public perception that cell phone might be dangerous and explode in your hands ifused while charging. Thus he can not ignore the possiblity of bad press out there, but rather needs to squash it immediately, much like you used to see tobacco industry people doing in the pre-1970 period.

However, I must admit i believe it is a hoax. I myself had used my old cell phone many times while on the charger (the new one doesn't have a plug in charger). If this event really happened, I would suspect there were more elements involved than just the charger, cell phone a guy. Maybe the guy just finished a batch of meth and had acetone on him, maybe he had been out washing car parts in gasoline and had some fumes, maybe he just got out of the shower and didn't dry his head off before answering, or maybe even he was assassinated.

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#29
In reply to #28

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 11:52 AM

I believe it's a hoax also.

If you go to snopes, a link is above posted by a member. From the pictures it looks like the burns are between his pointer and middle fingers, also at the end of the thumb. Its looks like the kind of burns that you might get from falling a sleep with a cigarette in your hand. The sheets look like the caught on fire also. But then again it's just a guess and I've also seen similar burns from cigarettes before.

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#31
In reply to #29

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 11:44 PM

It reminds of the burns fry-cooks get from hot oil. (160 -180 C0)

By the state of the finger nails though, hopefully not a cook.

If it wasn't "quenched out", could be in the 100 - 140 C0 range

Perhaps a mechanic undoing the sump plug on a red hot engine or transmission?

I would not regard the proximity of the burn images and room images as a 'causal link' either. I notice the mattress is clean and undamaged; again pointing to staged.

But it that's all speculation on my part

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#2

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 9:57 AM

Check out this site.

www.snopes.com

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#10
In reply to #2

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 1:30 PM

Good find. I still don't talk on my cell while it's charging though. The chances are probably pretty slim, but I don't want the battery blowing up next to my face either.

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#27
In reply to #2

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 11:12 AM

If you look at the hand burns, they look like the where case by something between the pointer and middle finger. Almost like a cigarette.

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#4

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 10:10 AM

Bits of research:

http://www.vb.eqla3.com/ - seems to be from Saudi Arabia

http://www.qatarliving.com/node/958652

http://www.nexusoneforum.net/forum/nexus-one-general-discussion/5021-another-noob-question.html

Couldn't find anything to trace it back to the University of Miami.

It stinks.

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#5

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 11:11 AM

The last time I checked cell phones are mostly plastic and to top that off to get a shock from one you need to complete a circuit in one fashion or another.

How does a person apparently on a bed made out of non conductive materials plus that is on what appears to be a wood or other likely low to non conductive material flooring complete a circuit of high enough conductivity to get them selves electrocuted?

Also the phone in the picture does not look to have been burned in such a way as to suggest an internal fire from a battery shorting out let alone exploding with enough force to injure someone one.

I also have doubts about the location being that the charger laying on the bed looks to possibly have the two round pin style prongs that are not used anywhere in north America.

Its just a hunch but I have serious doubts as well.

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#11

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 1:52 PM

From http://www.hoax-slayer.com/cell-phone-charging.html

Example:(Submitted, September 2005)

Subject: Don't answer a cell phone while it's being charged

Don't answer a cellphone while it's being charged

Don't answer a cell phone while it is being CHARGED!! A few days ago, a person was recharging his cell phone at home. Just at that time a call came through and he attended to it; with the instrument still connected to the mains After a few seconds electricity flowed into the cell phone unrestrained and the person was thrown to the ground with a heavy thud.

His parents rushed into the room only to find him unconscious, with weak heartbeats and burnt fingers. He was rushed to the nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. A Cell phone is a very useful modern invention.

However, we must be aware that it can also be an instrument of death.

Never use the cell phone while it is hooked to the mains!

FORWARD THIS TO THE PEOPLE THAT MATTER IN YOUR LIFE, I JUST DID!

Almost word for word. Looks like this hoax has been around in one form or another since about 2004.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 2:47 PM

The Snopes website said that the pictures were added in 2007, as did hoax-slayer.

Both sites have similar contents.

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#13

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 10:34 PM

I have been studying the charging requirements and characteristics of lithium cells for an application I have developed that uses them and there is no plausibility to this story based on that technology or any other.

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#15

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/24/2011 11:28 PM

I amazed that this could show up here. It is a hoax, and has been a hoax for years. Get real.

Of course it's not dangerous to use a cell phone when charging. 5V, .7A = 3.5 watts. If your cell phone is hot to the touch when you charge it, don't use it.

This image also provides a view of the "scene of the crime", where an unfortunate of victim of electronic ignorance met his demise.

Come now... how would you explain such a thing happening? Lightning? Then don't use your land line, or touch wall switches, or use a computer. How did all this energy make its way through the still intact cord (with its microscopically small conductors) and power supply?

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#16

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 6:52 AM

I plugged in my vacuum the other day to clean the house. Turned it on and BAM! Nothing...I think this is a hoax.

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#18

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 8:31 AM

I got this email from a friend also named Jim. Here is my reply,

G'day Jim, it looks to me like people have jumped to conclusions here. Why didn't they blame the iPOD instead? The headphones are completely burnt. The phone charger is O.K. And that would normally be the only thing that will burn/explode. A burnout like this is looks far too strong to caused by 110v. It seems to be far more likely that the young man was listening to his iPOD and putting explosive substances into his phone for some illicit purpose. The only other way is for lightning strike. But even then the first point of burnout is the transformer in the charger module. The high voltage side of a transformer is a wire coil that is insulated from itself and from the secondary coil. The secondary coil is totally separate from the high voltage. It gets its voltage from the magnetic flux that surrounds the first coil. If there is breakdown in the insulation of the high voltage coil the wires go 'short circuit' and blow up there first. The subsequent heat and arcing will burn through the insulation to the secondary coil and send high voltage down the line to the phone BUT only if the fuse hasn't blown and the wires make contact. As I said this would be self evident in that the charger would be burnt out first. I wonder why there is so much hysteria around mobile phones? Regards Jim Please understand that my friend is not an engineer and i was explaining as best i could to an otherwise intelligent man in as simple a way as i could. As other posters have said the explanation given in the email is certainly an incorrect one.

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#19

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 8:56 AM

There is no splatter on walls... if in deed there was an explosion strong enough to knock someone to the floor & kill them(?). The bed is bare - has no slip cover - a home with clean walls should also have covers on its beds(?) The obvious heat needed to make those burns suggests something other than an explosion (a slow burn actually) - the pillow is in good shape (no frayed edges or scattered material) except for its burn mark... if anything the battery could have failed... but the Miami folks were certainly derelict of duty in not enquiring further. Carlos

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 9:03 AM

"... the Miami folks were certainly derelict of duty ..." - the report is false, and had nothing to do with the University of Miami.

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#21

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 9:33 AM

I called all my friends to warn them! half of them are dead now ha ha

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 9:38 AM

GA. However it's a little scary that the failure rate is 50%.

If I charge my phone in the bath tub will that help?

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#23
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Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 9:43 AM

You gotta pay attention to the vote box wording.

It changes and has double negatives ref OT votes.

I.e what you meant is now -6 not -4

But GA from me too - funnnnnnnnny!

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#25
In reply to #23

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 9:55 AM

lol I never noticed that. Maybe he should go for the record for most OT votes.

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#24
In reply to #22

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/25/2011 9:44 AM

That's one way to help Kris get his bath broken up.

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#33

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/29/2011 5:11 PM

FALSE

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#34

Re: True or False: It’s Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While It’s Charging

03/29/2011 5:30 PM

Snopes reports this as mostly a hoax from India in 2004 with a caution that some cell phone batteries have exploded while being charged.

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