How likely is death by iPhone electrocution? Not very

“Horrifying news reports suggest that an iPhone electrocuted a Chinese woman — though it’s very unclear if that happened at all and if the rest of the iPhone-owning public should worry about death by smartphone electrocution,” Rebecca Greenfield reports for The Atlantic Wire.

“The details from various media reports are murky, making it hard to reach any firm conclusions about the dangers of iPhones,” Greenfield reports. “It’s unclear what model of Apple’s popular cell phone the victim, Ma Ailun, used, or if it even came from a legitimate Apple retailer or China’s gray market. Her family insists that she used genuine Apple parts and that the phone was under warranty still. Apple is investigating the situation.”

Greenfield reports, “Given how little we know about the incident, however, here are some possible ways she might have put herself in contact with a deadly electronic charge.”

• Did She Have Counterfeit Charger?
• Was She in the Bathtub?
• Is There Faulty Wiring in the House?

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
Was this Chinese stewardess killed by her Apple iPhone 5? No – if anything, it was faulty charger – July 15, 2013
Apple to probe electric shock death of Chinese woman who used iPhone 5 while it was charging – July 15, 2013

13 Comments

  1. I’d be interested in hearing more about the referenced Mythbusters research into lethal doses. .7 amps is not a lot, though if she still had one foot in the tub the current can cross through the heart. I know someone who did same thing though touched a medicine cabinet that was wired backward and gave him a serious enough shock it welded his fingers together… but that’s 15-20 amps. It still didn’t kill him, but he’s a pretty tough dude. It seems unlikely she died without a similar short in house wiring.

    1. In my country any electrical wiring in “wet” spaces, or feeding water supply connected appliances should be protected with a 30mA ground fault interrupter (aka residual current circuit breaker). In addition, residences need overall protection with a 300mA GFI. For AC the dangerous range for arm to arm currents is between 50mA and 200mA, because of the zero transitions. (DC will more easily clamp down the heart muscle, such that, on disconnection the chances of fibrillation may be lower.) Obviously, higher currents will also cause burns.

      I am horrified to read that currents of .7A would be considered safe by anyone.

    2. In operating theatres, they use ground current detection in the tens of microAmps, because you could zap a heart at these levels with electrodes connected to the inside of the chest.

  2. Just because a mains circuit is protected by a 15-amp breaker doesn’t mean someone who received a shock received the breaker’s rated carry current through his or her body. Electricity is (very) poorly understood by most people.

    The lethal dose is 7 thousandths of an amp. Sure, the iPhone charger puts out 1 full ampere of current, but since that current is delivered at 5 volts, you need a very low-impedance circuit anxious to accept the current at such a low voltage.

    Something’s way, way amiss here with that Chinese lady. There is absolutely no way anyone can get a lethal current with 5 volts. If you don’t believe me, go grab a 9-volt battery, which can sustain a few hundred milliamps at decent voltages. Soak yourself in a tub of salt water (or your electrolyte of choice). Touch one electrode with your finger and the other with your tongue. Or one electrode on one finger and the other electrode on the other finger. No matter what you do, the resistance of the human body cannot not be made so low on its exterior surfaces that one can get a fatal dose from a 9-volt battery.

    And certainly 5 volts can’t kill anyone.

    I’ve seen only one death from a 9-volt battery. That was on a pig during experiments with a medical device I helped design. The pig’s chest cavity had been opened and its heart was exposed (it was anesthetized, of course). When the experiment was over and it was time to euthanize the animal, the supervising veterinarian took a 9-volt battery and touched it directly to the heart muscle, which put its heart into V-fib. That is the only way you can kill someone with a 9-volt battery: internal exposure.

    So if the Chinese gal was really electrocuted by a 5-volt iPhone charger, either there was a colossal failure that allowed excessive voltage through to the USB (iPhone side), or she dunked the AC-side into the bathtub water, or something else is going on.

    But no matter what, no one can be in danger from five volts from an iPhone charger unless it has been shorted and damaged beyond all comprehension.

  3. 50,000 volts is about what a spark plug HT lead on a car gives out and that can be a shock, but it wont kill you. Thats at a TINY amperage, of course.
    120 at 15 amps is dangerous, but if its a quick touch, it won’t, generally do any harm, although you might feel like crap for a few hours.
    5 volts at 2 amps? Aint going to do it.
    This gal is dead and maybe her family want some cash…?
    Who knows? Its in China, ffs! Anyhting can happen in that insane totalitarian state where the government shoot you if they dont like you.

    1. 15 amps is the overload nominal value for your average home breaker or fuse. The trip point is actually a time inverse relationship and small overloads of 20 amps will be tolerated for perhaps a dozen or more seconds. A dead short can deliver up tp 10k amps but the protective device (breaker) must detect and clear the fault within a cycle of AC or two.

      If a 12 volt battery comes in contact with an open bleeding wound, and the victim is barefoot in salt water at the other end of the battery circuit, it can cause death.

  4. More likely by far to have a lightning strike on power lines which comes into the house and blows all your electronics & unfortunately, could kill anyone near any AC connected electrical device.

  5. Maybe the charger was plugged into an extension cord. When she pulled the phone to her ear, the charger and extension cord were dragged into the bath with her. Wouldn’t be the phone’s fault at all.

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