Much as we’d all like to think otherwise, the production of smartphones generally isn’t very eco-friendly. From the mining of rare earth metals to the myriad hazardous chemicals involved to the crazy emissions involved in shipping these things around the world, there’s enough nastiness involved to make Captain Planet say screw it, take his Planeteer rings back, and fly off to be Captain Some-Other-Planet.
Apple has always been pretty public about the efforts they’re taking to make the process better, if only one small step at a time. Today they take one more step.
Following petitions from China Labor Watch and Green America regarding the use of two known carcinogens (benzene and n-hexane), Apple launched an investigation into how the chemicals are used in their 22 assembly plants, and how their workers are exposed.
If benzene sounds familiar, you probably know it as the chemical that makes gasoline work a bit better (increasing octane rating and decreasing engine knock). N-hexane, meanwhile, is often used in the production of glues. In electronic manufacturing, however, these chemicals are used as a cleaning agent because of how quickly and easily they evaporate.
Alas, each chemical is pretty awful in its own right. With sufficient exposure, benzene causes cancer, leukemia, chromosomal damage, and organ damage. N-hexane can cause vertigo, drowsiness, and all sorts of nervous system issues.
According to the AP, Apple found traces of either chemical at 4 of their 22 assembly plants — and “found no evidence of workers’ health being put at risk” at those locations. Moving forward, however, Apple says they chemicals are outright banned “in final assembly processes”.
Of course, “final assembly” is but one stage of dozens — so this is just a start.
[Photo via RDECOM on Flickr, used under CreativeCommons]