Friday 20 April 2018

Apple bans two dangerous toxins used in your iPhone

Employees work along a production line in a Chinese factory
Employees work along a production line in a Chinese factory

Matthew Sparkes

Apple has bowed to pressure and banned two dangerous chemicals that were exposing hundreds of thousands of staff in China to a greater risk of cancer, nerve damage and paralysis from parts of its supply chain.

It will continue to be used at some factories, however.

The toxins are commonly used at huge plants owned by separate companies where Apple’s products, including the iPad and iPhone, are made to order before being shipped around the world.

One of the chemicals, n-hexane, is used to clean smudges from screens prior to packing them in boxes. It is used because it dries more quickly than other, safer solvents and therefore allows staff to work faster with less waiting. But it can also cause nerve damage and, in severe cases, paralysis.

Another substance, the carcinogen benzene, is used to coat certain electronic components.

Earlier this year the environmental group Green America warned that exposure to toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process of parts that go on to make up Apple products can lead to cancer, nerve damage and reproductive health issues. It also claimed that staff were not always given adequate training in their use, or access to the correct protective equipment.

The group called on customers to search their conscience and consider the fate of an estimated million workers in supplier factories before buying Apple products.

Apple has since conducted an investigation into the use of the chemicals at some of the factories which supply it. Apple would not comment on the total number of factories that supply devices, or how the 22 “final assembly” sites were chosen for inclusion in its study.

The company “didn't find any evidence of workers being put at risk”, although both chemicals were being used at four of the plants during a four month study.

In some of those factories they were able to work with managers to find safer alternative products, and Apple will explicitly prohibit the use of benzene and n-hexane in cleaning agents and degreasers in its final assembly process from September.

They will, however, be allowed in other applications such as production plants which supply individual components that are later bought and used to assemble final products elsewhere. Benzene can be used as long as it is found in fewer than 0.1ppm in "breathing zones", while n-hexane can be used up to a concentration of 28ppm.

Elizabeth O'Connell, campaigns director at Green America, said: "This announcement and the preceding investigation shows that Apple listens to its customers. However, Apple needs to go further to create a safe environment at all factories in their supply chain for the health and safety of all 1.5 million workers."

Green America said that it will continue to call for Apple to identify and disclose all chemicals used in all supplier factories. Chemicals deemed hazardous to human health must be replaced with safer alternatives in all factories, it said.

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