Environment

Making our devices involves hundreds of toxic chemicals.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, when electronics were made in the U.S., they poisoned not just workers but local communities. From one plant after another, thousands of gallons of cancer-causing chemicals leaked into the groundwater, poisoning neighborhoods across Silicon Valley and small towns like Endicott, NY. The public only found out when children started being born with serious birth defects and cancer clusters sprang up in one street after another. More than a generation later, these same carcinogens are still traveling through the soil and up into people’s homes and offices.

Now that China makes most of the world’s electronics, the same devastating environmental contamination is happening there as well — and on a much larger scale.

We filmed ravaged communities in the U.S. and China and spoke with environmental experts who helped us understand the problem.

Linda Greer, Senior Scientist with NRDC:
“Regulatory agencies here like the Occupational Health Administration, like the Environmental Protection Agency, like the Centers of Disease Control have established safe levels of exposure for you and I and for workers for heavy metals, for toxic solvents, etc. We do not need to be reinventing the wheel here in China. A human being is a human being.

For many factories in China, penalties for environmental violations are so low, it’s often cheaper to pay fines rather than install proper wastewater treatment plants.

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More than 60% of China’s ground water is considered unfit for human contact.

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In the U.S. cancer-causing solvents leaked from the electronics factories’ storage tanks and are still traveling through the soil and up into people’s homes and offices.

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The federal Superfund program requires companies to clean up sites they have contaminated. There are 23 sites in the heart of Silicon Valley alone. It is estimated the clean-up could take up to 300 years.

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In China, one electronics supplier generates more than 100,000 tons of hazardous waste in a single year.

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