Global high tech industry contaminating waters in Southern China

Press release - 2007-02-08
Greenpeace today released a report demonstrating how some biggest brands of electronics industry, and their suppliers, are contaminating rivers and underground water with a wide range of toxic chemicals, some of which are environmentally persistent.

This farmer is tilling the soil; off in the distance is the Huatong Electronics Factory.

The report, 'Cutting Edge Contamination: A study of environmental pollution during the manufacture of electronics products', analyses samples of discharged wastewater, sediments, soil and groundwater taken from industrial estates in China, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand. In China, samples come from two factories in Guangdong Province. One of the factories is owned by Compeq, a Taiwanese joint-venture, and allegedly has been a supplier of printed wiring boards (PWB) to various multinationals, such as Apple (1), Motorola and Nokia (2).

'In recent years, attention has been focused on the impacts of hazardous chemicals released during the disposal of electronics products. Nonetheless, the full environmental costs of electronic industry should take into account the widespread contamination and its long lasting environmental impact during the manufacturing process.' Dr. Kevin Brigden from Greenpeace Research Laboratories commented.

The report reveals the presence of PBDEs and phthalates (3) in samples from the two sites. Both chemicals are known to be toxic and bio-accumulative in animals and humans. Groundwater aquifers contamination of heavy metals is also documented in the vicinity of the two facilities (4). Both facilities discharge wastewater into the nearby rivers (5) which are used for irrigation and fishing by the local communities.

'There is shockingly little information on precisely which major brand companies are supplied by which manufacturing facilities. Responsibility for the contamination lies as much with those brands as with the facilities themselves. There has to be full transparency regarding the supply chain within the electronics industry, so that brand owners are forced to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of producing their goods,' said Jamie Choi, Greenpeace China toxics campaigner.

'Greenpeace calls on all of the companies that work with Compeq to act upon our findings and investigate activities at the Compeq facility in order to prevent any releases of persistent organic compounds', said Jamie Choi.

Greenpeace also urges the Chinese government to take up more stringent regulations regarding discharges from electronics production facilities. The test results show that the current regulations on water discharge is too lax to mitigate the environmental impact of electronics industry.

Notes:

(1) Compeq allegedly supplies circuit boards to make Apple iPods: http://www.ipodobserver.com/story/29412; http://www.macworld.co.uk/ipod-itunes/news/index.cfm?newsid=16629

(2) Compeq is also allegedly a PCB supplier to Motorola and Nokia:
http://www.emsnow.com/newsarchives/archivedetails.cfm?ID=3189

(3) PBDE, polybrominiated diphenyl ethers, is a group of brominated chemicals widely used as flame retardants. Phthalates are often used as softeners in some plastics.

(4) The heavy metals found are copper, nickel and other metals. Many aquatic organisms are extremely sensitive to copper, particularly in soluble forms, effects range from reductions in growth and fertility rates as well as increased mortality. Ingestion of some nickel compounds can cause toxic effects in humans and animals; gastrointestinal effects and even cardiac effects. Some nickel compounds are carcinogenic to humans, and possibly some animals.

(5) At the Fortune facility, wastewaters are discharged via an underground channel which flows into an open ditch that in turn flows into the Bushang River. The underground channel and open ditch flow through the local farmland. The Compeq facility, located on the banks of the Xiangang River, has four outfalls that discharge wastewaters to the river.

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