Why you shouldn’t use your mobile phone with a damaged charger

There’s an email going around that has a lot of people who use their mobile phone when it’s plugged into the wall-wart power charger quiet worried.

The mail, which has four fairly graphic images attached, warns on the dangers of using a cell phone when it is still attached, saying that the boy in the images was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital after using the device when it was still connected to the mains power supply.

While I can’t argue with the basic good advice to avoid using anything which is intended to be used on a battery, while the battery is still charging, it is worth pointing out a few things about the images and battery charging technology in general which might ease some of these fears.

Now I know I’m a fine one to talk, because for most of my adult life I’ve had a totally irrational fear that, when I’m in the shower, the 12v volt pump unit is mysteriously going to burst into flames and send 12 thousand volts down upon my soapy head and cook my goose.

I underline the word irrational, because it doesn’t get in the way of my frontal lobe knowledge that, even if the laws of physics were to be mysteriously circumvented and electricity were allowed to flow through a broken circuit (which is what would happen if there was a surge of some kind to blow the fuse), the path of least resistance through which the remaining current would flow would be the copper earth wire, running to ground—and not my dripping wet, highly conductive torso.

In the accompanying blurb with the viral email, there is a description of the young man being “thrown to the ground”—which would suggest to me that the device was attached to a direct current. This is unusual for a European Union electrical device, which has passed the Kite Mark standard—and it should be noted that the images (whilst they may not have originated in they do nevertheless) carry the logo of an Arabic language website.

Also note that the wall-wart charger is a side-on, two pin type with no ground (earth) third pin, which is illegal in the EU and US for devices carrying a voltage greater than that which would cause ventricular fibrillation.

My educated guess (which is all I can give, without any further background on these particular images and the verisimilitude of the email viral itself) is that the charger being used, or the battery pack in the phone, may have been defective and / or counterfeit.

This may account for why a power surge or another anomaly caused the battery to explode or malfunction. Anyway, it’s pretty grizzly stuff and definitely serves as a warning not to improperly use electrical equipment.

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