Toxic waste water from a industrial estate in Thailand where electronics are manufactured.
Analysis of samples taken from industrial estates in China,
Mexico, thePhilippines and Thailand, reveals the release of
hazardous chemicals ineach of the three sectors investigated:
printed wiring board (PWB)manufacture, semiconductor chip
manufacture and component assembly (2).
Mostnoteworthy was the discovery at the majority of sites
investigated ofpolybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a group of
brominated chemicalsused as flame retardants, and of phthalates,
chemicals used in a widerange processes and materials, though they
are most commonly used asplasticisers (softeners) in some plastics
"Over recentyears we have seen an increasing concern over the
use of hazardouschemicals in electronic products but attention has
focussed on thecontamination released during disposal or 'recycling
of electronicwaste'", 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 trulyglobal with individual
components manufactured at specialisedfacilities around the world
often involving highly resource andchemical intensive processes,
generating hazardous wastes, the fate andeffects of which are still
very poorly documented.
"There isshockingly little information on precisely which major
brand companiesare supplied by which manufacturing facilities.
Responsibility for thecontamination lies as much with those brands
as with the facilitiesthemselves," said Zeina Alhajj, Toxics
Campaigner, GreenpeaceInternational, "There has to be full
transparency regarding the supplychain within the electronics
industry, so that brand owners are forcedto take responsibility for
the environmental impacts of producing theirgoods."
The study also documents the contamination ofgroundwater
aquifers at a number of sites, particularly aroundsemiconductor
manufacturers, with toxic chlorinated volatile organicchemicals
(VOCs) and toxic metals including nickel. Contamination
ofgroundwater is of particular concern, since local communities in
manyplaces use groundwater for drinking water. At one site, the
CaviteExport Processing Zone (CEPZA) in the Philippines, three
samplescontained chlorinated VOCs above World Health Organisation
(WHO) limitsfor drinking water. One sample contained
tetrachloroethene at 9 timesabove the WHO guidance values for
exposure limits and 70 times the USEnvironmental Protection Agency
maximum contaminant level for drinkingwater. Elevated levels of
metals, particularly copper, nickel and zinc,were also found in
groundwater samples in some sites (4).
The use of such toxic chemicals in manufacturing processes also
poses potential risks to workers through workplace exposure.
Wastewaterdischarged from an IBM site in Guadalajara, Mexico
contained hazardouscompounds, including some (such as the potent
hormone disruptornonylphenol) which were not found at other sites.
IBM's 'SupplierConduct Principles Guidelines' state that suppliers
should operate in amanner that is protective of the environment.
"IBM should act upon ourfindings and investigate activities at the
site in order to prevent anyreleases of persistent organic
compounds from the Guadalajara site,"Al-Hajj stressed.
"The tragic and undocumented persistentcontamination of people
and the environment by the global electronicsindustry, which hides
behind the anonymity of its supplier chain, mustend. These
facilities and the brands which pay for them must be
fullyinvestigated and the pollution must stop. Electronics
manufacturingremains at the cutting edge of technological
development and has astrong economic future. There is no reason why
it should not also be atthe cutting edge when it comes to clean
designs and technologies,substitution of hazardous chemicals,
greater worker health protectionand the prevention of environmental
pollution at source," concludedZeina Alhajj.
Other contacts: Dr. Kevin Brigden, Greenpeace Research Laboratories in Exeter, +44 7968 844906 Zeina al-Hajj, Greenpeace International, Campaign coordinator +31653128904 Natalia Tuchi, Greenpeace International, Media officer +31 646162029
Notes: 1. Online version available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/electronicsproductionreport 2. The report analyses samples taken from: IBM, HP, Intel, Sony and Sanyo, Fortune, Compeq, Elec&Eltek, CKL Electronics, KCE, PCTT, On Semicon (also known as on Semiconductor), Kemet, Flextronics, Jabil, Solectron, and Sanmina; and industrial estates where some of these are situated: Navanakorn, Bangpa-in, Hi-Tech, Rojana, Gateway Business Park, Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZA) 3. PBDEs and many phthalates are known to be toxic, and some are also persistent in the environment. Certain PBDEs are highly bioaccumulative (able to build up to high concentrations in animals and humans). 4. Copper and Nickel are widely used in the PWB manufacture of electronics. Effects from copper to aquatic life can occur at very low levels including reduction in growth and fertility rate. Ingestion of some nickel compounds can cause toxic effects in humans and animals.