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I have an old laptop at my disposal that has a malfunctioning HDD 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 HDD (that was placed in a computer manufactured in 2004)?

P.S. I am not worried about doing damage to the hard drive or the computer, just me!

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There are plenty of ways you can pinch and cut your flesh, but as far as hazardous materials.... I haven't died from dissecting a HDD. –  KronoS May 8 at 20:41
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There shouldn't be any hazardous materials, but there are plenty of ways for you to hurt yourself if you use the wrong tools (or the right tools in the wrong way). Good luck! –  KnightOfNi May 8 at 20:45
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No, because of legislations such as RoHS, WEEE and country-specific legislation you are highly unlikely to find any seriously hazardous materials in any electronics equipment sold to the consumer market in the last 20 years. –  Mokubai May 8 at 20:46
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@Mokubai The contents of batteries are pretty unpleasant! (Took me ages to get used to the flavour, anyway) –  Poldie May 9 at 15:53
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@Mokubai Simple! Make your own hard drives! Then you don't have to deal with RoHS and all the other annoying legal requirements! ;) –  Cole Johnson May 9 at 16:30

5 Answers 5

up vote 32 down vote accepted

No problem.

There could be a small amount of lead in the solder (if the soldering dates from before ROHS compliancy), but it's locked up in the material. It won't 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 catch 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 don't cut or drill into them it's no problem at all.

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

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lead has not been allowed in fuel for a long time –  ratchet freak May 9 at 8:56
    
@ratchetfreak True, but there are still a lot of pollutants from the old days in the environment. The lead (and other stuff) got into the road-surfaces and some of it is re-circulated (to some extend) into the atmosphere by the vehicles traveling over the road. When a road is re-paved or gets new tarmac the problem goes away of course, but in many places the original road-surface of the leaded fuel days is still there. –  Tonny May 9 at 9:39
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Can you cite the air pollution comparision? –  Max Ried May 9 at 11:15
    
@MaxRied I have seen some studies (my girlfriend works for an insurance company involved in a health-claim case due to road-pollution and she showed me some things), but I can't cite those. They might be public (I'm not sure), but I wouldn't know where to find them if they are. –  Tonny May 9 at 13:12
    
Lead was also deposited off the road (onto soil), sometimes for a considerable distance. It can be stirred up and get ingested or into the food chain, but I would be more worried about old lead paint in a home, or old paint being sandblasted off a bridge, or being near a lead smelter or battery plant. –  Phil Perry May 9 at 15:48

The only "danger" I've ever encountered is 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 (3-4mm) 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 :-)

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Those magnets are perfect to keep cupboard doors closed. Much more powerful than the regular cupboard magnets. Especially useful on a boat or in a caravan that is subject to a fair bit of vibration. The hard-drive platters make nice coasters to put drinks on. –  Tonny May 9 at 6:56
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@Tonny I can't believe you use the platters as coasters! Such a waste of a great signal mirror! –  Canadian Luke May 9 at 17:38
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@allquixotic I know, but I live pretty close to a military airstrip. Not a good idea to mess around with signaling mirrors here :-) Last year a farmer, about half a mile from here, got into trouble because he used strips of aluminum foil to enhance a scare-crow. The fine was bigger than the bird-damage to his crops. –  Tonny May 9 at 20:10
    
Wow, that sucks... –  Canadian Luke May 9 at 20:11
    
You're kidding?! They fined someone for having excessively reflective scarecrows? What if they happened to park their car so that the Sun reflected off a window and dazzled a pilot -- would they be arrested for that? Neither action was deliberately intended to harm or interfere with a pilot (as opposed to, say shining a laser at a plane). This is the Netherlands? If that happened in the US, there would be armed rebellion. –  Phil Perry May 13 at 14:07

As others have stated, there isn't likely to be anything immediately hazardous inside a hard drive of that vintage. I've taken a number of them apart and never seen or heard of anything in any form that could be easily ingested or absorbed that would be toxic.

Lead in solder, and other metals are present, of course, but not in forms that would be hazardous.

Some of the funnest parts inside a hard drive are the small but quite powerful magnets that work with the voice coil to move/position the read/write heads. Those are worth retrieving.

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I recently opened a deceased Seagate laptop drive. ( I have had trouble with this brand in the past but that is another story) The platters in it were indeed glass but looked and felt like metal. I took it to work to show my coworkers and flexed one thinking it was maybe aluminium or magnesium. It shattered into many small pieces all of which were very sharp. This drive was manufactured in 2011 so yours may be different. Just be careful!

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I don't think this applies to laptop hard drives, but the platters in some older desktop drives used to be made of glass. If you drop or bend them, they can shatter to to quite small, painful shards. If you look after them, they're fine.

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I managed to "shatter" a metal hard drive platter once. It didn't go to small pieces, but it did have a very dangerously sharp edge. –  Heptite May 15 at 22:18

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