In a forum organized yesterday by the EcoWaste Coalition and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Ted Smith, founder of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, disproved the “clean image” of the high-tech industry.
Speaking before an enthusiastic crowd of environmental and health campaigners, Smith, who is also the co-editor of the book “Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry,” presented an overview of the impacts of electronics manufacturing on workers and local environments across the planet.
“From Silicon Valley in California to Silicon Glen in Scotland, from Silicon Island in Taiwan to Silicon Paddy in China, the social, economic, and ecological effects of the international electronics industry are widespread. The production of electronic and computer components contaminate air, land, and water around the globe. Unfortunately, the people who suffer the consequences are largely poor, female, immigrant, and minority,” Smith said.
Contrary to high tech’s clean image, Smith cited examples that illustrate the industry’s environmental and economic downsides from its birthplace of Silicon Valley to the four corners of the globe to which the industry recently has spread, including the use of toxic materials in the
manufacture of computers and other electronics and their adverse impacts to workers’ occupational health and safety.
Among the toxics commonly used in computers include solvents to make chips, disk drives, and other parts, lead and cadmium in circuit boards, lead and barium in monitors, brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) casings and mercury in switches and flat screens. Over 1,000 chemicals are actually used in computer production.
“Semiconductor workers experience illness rates three times greater than manufacturing workers in other industries. In three epidemiological studies, women who worked in fabrication rooms were found to have rates of miscarriage of 40% or more above non-manufacturing workers. In fact, Silicon Valley has more EPA Superfund sites than any other area in the
USA,” Smith pointed out.
During the forum, Smith were joined by local campaigners in drawing attention over the dirty recycling and disposal of electronic waste or e-waste, which include discarded electronic devices such as personal computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), mp3 players, video cassette recorders (VCRs), cellular phones, television sets and many other electronic products.
“In order to avoid liabilities associated with the continuing generation of e-waste, companies have to institute individual take-back programs and provide incentives for the safe recovery and recycling of discarded electronic materials. More importantly, the electronics industry has to
ensure that toxic substances are removed and replaced with safer substitutes throughout their supply chain and production processes.
This is where innovation in the industry is most needed,” stated Von Hernandez, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, a member of the EcoWaste Coalition.
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