Apple's best-selling iPhone, due to be launched in Britain next month, may be forced to carry an official health warning after being found to contain toxic chemicals.

The discovery could threaten the expected worldwide sweep of the device, whose US sales topped one million in just two and a half months.

It is also likely to embarrass Al Gore, who this month won the Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental campaigning. The former US vice-president is a prominent member of the hi-tech company's seven-member board.

The California company, which widely touts its green "leadership", was last week notified that it is in violation of its home state's law. It must respond within 60 days. If found to be in breach it could either to have to rebuild the phone, eliminating the toxins from the much-marketed product, or attach a warning label to it.

The iPhone, billed as revolutionising the mobile phone, combines three devices in one – a phone, a video player and a mobile internet device. But Greenpeace bought an iPhone in the United States in June and had 18 of its materials and components independently tested for toxic substances.

Half of them tested positive for bromine, "suggesting widespread use" of brominated flame retardants; these are suspected of a range of threats to health, and the bromine itself can cause pollution when disposed of as waste.

Four items also tested positive for antimony, a toxic mineral often used with flame retardants, and others contained very small amounts of chromium and lead. Chlorine was found in the plastic coating of the headphone cables, indicating the presence of PVC.

In May, Apple promised that both PVC and the flame retardants would be banned from all its new products by the end of next year.

But the greatest headache for Apple is the discovery of phthalates, used to make plastic more flexible, in the cable coating. The chemicals are suspected of causing birth defects and gender-bending effects. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) says that under Californian law, products containing them must carry a warning label.

The CEH has formally notified the company that it is in violation and is threatening to sue. It believes the company may prefer to eliminate the materials rather than face the stigma of carrying a warning label.

Greenpeace says that all the chemicals found would be allowed under European law and that it does not know whether they will be contained in the phones sold here. Apple declined to comment.

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