This week, Apple was slammed by industry watchdogs claiming that the company is using harmful chemicals in its factories. According to the groups China Labor Watch and Green America, Apple needs to “stop needlessly exposing workers in Chinese manufacturing facilities to toxic chemicals now causing severe illnesses,” explaining that a switch to alternative chemicals would be incredibly inexpensive for the company, but potentially life-saving for employees.
The solvents n-hexane and benzene are the main culprits. N-hexane is used to clean electronic displays at the factories, while benzene is used to clear and coat electronic components. Apple prefers using N-hexxane because it evaporates quickly. However, long-term exposure can cause nerve damage and even paralysis. Benzene is a known carcinogen that can cause leukemia as well as reproductive abnormalities. Kevin Slate, of China Labor Watch, asks that Apple provide employees with legal standards of welfare.
In a statement to The Guardian, Apple defended their choice of cleaning chemicals, claiming that it requires their supplies to either meet or exceed OSHA safety standards for the presence of both n-hexane and benzene.
“Over the past decade, Apple has led the industry in removing toxics like lead and mercury, brominated flame retardants and PVC from our products, which is good for workers as well as consumers,” an Apple spokesperson asserted.
Later this week Green Apple and China Labor Watch plan on holding a press conference titled “Bad Apple” in which they will both address Apple’s problems, as well as provide ideas for safer chemical procedures. Slaten is quick to point out that they’re not the only culprit, either, saying that “[Apple] is not alone in these labor conditions breaches… Samsung, HP, Dell and others all need to reform too.”
It’s worth noting that your own company might be using chemicals that are potentially hazardous at certain concentrations. Chemicals such as propyl nitrate, ammonia solutions, dihydrogen monoxide, and chlorine are often part of commercial cleaning service solutions even though they are on OSHA’s list of hazardous workplace chemicals.
“Everything that we use is green,” explains Cory Waltemath, President of Desert Oasis Commercial Cleaners. “There is a big movement for everyone to move to green chemicals in our industry, and we wanted to get on the front line of that. We’ve been doing it for eight years now. It’s important not only to keep the workplace clean, but to remember that you’re also accountable for the safety of the workers as well.”