Contaminated waste water pours into a public canal in Thailand from a industrial treatment plant.
Most mobile phones, computers and other consumer electronics are
nowmanufactured in developing countries like China, Mexico,
Thailand andthe Philippines. While labour practices at these
production plants usedby major manufactures has come under
increasing focus there has beenlittle research into environmental
Samples taken from industrial estates in China, Mexico, the
Philippinesand Thailand, reveals the release of hazardous chemicals
in each of thethree sectors investigated: printed wiring board
manufacture,semiconductor chip manufacture and component
"Over recent years we have seen an increasing concern over the
use ofhazardous chemicals in electronic products but attention has
focussedon the contamination released during disposal or 'recycling
ofelectronic waste'", said Dr. Kevin Brigden from the Greenpeace
ResearchLaboratories. "Our findings of contamination arising during
themanufacturing stage make it clear that only when we factor in
thecomplete life cycle will the full environmental costs of
electronicdevices begin to emerge."
The electronics industry is truly global with individual
componentsmanufactured at specialised facilities around the world
often involvinghighly resource and chemical intensive processes,
generating hazardouswastes, the fate and effects of which are still
very poorly documented.
"There is shockingly little information on precisely which major
brandcompanies are supplied by which manufacturing
facilities.Responsibility for the contamination lies as much with
those brands aswith the facilities themselves," said Zeina Alhajj,
Toxics Campaigner,Greenpeace International, "There has to be full
transparency regardingthe supply chain within the electronics
industry, so that brand ownersare forced to take responsibility for
the environmental impacts ofproducing their goods."
The study also documents the contamination of groundwater wells
at anumber of sites, particularly around semiconductor
manufacturers, withtoxic chlorinated chemicals (VOC's) and toxic
metals. Contamination ofgroundwater is serious, since local
communities in many places usegroundwater for drinking water.
At one site in the Philippines, three samples contained
chlorinatedVOCs above World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for
drinking water.One sample contained tetrachloroethene at 9 times
above the WHOguidance values for exposure limits and 70 times the
US EnvironmentalProtection Agency maximum contaminant level for
drinking water.Elevated levels of metals, particularly copper,
nickel and zinc, werealso found in groundwater samples in some
The use of such toxic chemicals in manufacturing processes also
poses potential risks to workers through workplace exposure.
Paying the price
Wastewater discharged from an IBM site in Guadalajara, Mexico
containedhazardous compounds, including some that were not found at
other sites.IBM's 'Supplier Conduct Principles Guidelines' state
that suppliersshould operate in a manner that is protective of the
All major manufactures should take a good read of this report
and seewhat they can do to clean up the production process of their
Workers and people living near production plants are paying the
priceof lax control and polluting practices of the global
electronicsindustry. Hiding behind anonymity of its supplier chain
just doesn'twash when other areas of the supply chain are tightly
Electronics manufacturing remains at the cutting edge of
technologicaldevelopment and has a strong economic future. There is
no reason why itshould not also be at the cutting edge when it
comes to cleantechnologies, substitution of hazardous chemicals,
greater workerhealth protection and the prevention of
Check out which of the major brands are doing the most to clean up their act in our Green Guide to Electronics ranking.
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