Photocredit: Basel Action Network

ACID ATTACK A labourer in Guiyu, China, heats aqua regia, an acid mixture that will dissolve gold. Workers inhale acid fumes, chlorine and sulphur dioxide gas all day as they swirl computer chips in the potent acid mix to recover tiny amounts of gold. The sludge from the process is dumped directly into the river.

Photocredit: Marcella Haddad

STRIP SEARCH On recruitment by a company in Guadalajara, Mexico, Monica was forced to strip naked, made to take a pregnancy test and examined intimately by medics who said they were looking for tattoos.

Photocredit: Basel Action Network.

COMPUTER AGE Woman about to smash a cathode ray tube from a computer monitor in order to remove the copper laden yoke at the end of the funnel. The glass is laden with lead but the biggest hazard from this is the inhalation of the highly toxic phosphor dust coating inside. Monitor glass is later dumped in irrigation canals and along the river where it leaches lead into the groundwater. The groundwater in Guiyu is completely contaminated to the point where fresh water is trucked in constantly for drinking purposes.

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Hazards 85 photofeature, January-March 2004

International Campaign for Responsible Technology

The clean industry could have a dark and dirty secret. From Silicon Glen in Scotland to Silicon Plateau in India, there are serious concerns about the long term health and environmental impact of the microelectronics industry. Leslie Byster and Ted Smith, pioneering campaigners from California's Silicon Valley, have seen the future - and it's hazardous.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) was formed in 1982 as a community response to the discovery of a cluster of birth defects in a San Jose, California, neighbourhood. The drinking water was poisoned by the toxics chemicals that had leaked into the groundwater from tanks used by the "clean" high-tech industry. Since then, SVTC has served as a watchdog and as the environmental conscience of the electronics industry.

The ICRT has become a clearinghouse and resource centre for technical advice and information. By developing models based on the manufacturing practices of the industry, the successes of SVTC and other groups, the ICRT can provide research and experience to the international network of organisations that is starting to challenge the negative impacts of high-tech development and to promote more sustainable solutions.

Clean up your computer, a January 2004 report from the aid agency CAFOD, says "interviews with electronics workers in Mexico, Thailand and China reveal a story of unsafe factories, compulsory overtime, wages below the legal minimum, and degrading treatment." The workers produce parts that end up in the computers of companies such as Hewlett Packard, Dell and IBM.

Dirty secrets feature image Dirty secrets of the cleanrooms
Hazards 85
Jan-Mar 2004

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Contact details

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
International Campaign for Responsible Technology
760 N. First Street, San Jose, CA 95112, USA.

Online resources

A report of the ICRT Global Symposium:
Academic papers on high-tech workplace risks:

Clean up your Computer: Working conditions in the electronics sector is free on the CAFOD website

Production lies Revealed! US chips firm's secret PR strategy to undermine Silicon Glen health campaigners.