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|Issue32: July - August 2004|
Expert assails "dirty" electronics industry
Workers in the electronics industry suffer higher exposure to toxic substances than their counterparts in the pesticide and chemical manufacturing industries, participants at a recent UNU Institute for New Technologies (UNU-INTECH) research seminar were told.
"Electronics could be a clean industry, but it's not," said Prof. David A. Sonnenfeld, associate professor of community and rurla sociology at Washington State University and currently a guest professor with the Environmental Policy Group at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
Drawing on numerous examples taken from across the spectrum of raw materials extraction, production and assembly through the end-of-life disposal of computing and electronic equipment, Prof. Sonnenfeld painted a picture of an industry that has been every bit as 'dirty' as most traditional manufacturing industries.
He said that of the 700 compounds that go into the production of one computer workstation, a large number (including lead, cadmium, barium, mercury, bromine and carbon black) are toxic, exposing workers to a range of serious health risks such as cancer, miscarriage and birth defects.
Among the cases cited during the seminar:
Sonnenfeld also discussed some of the industry's positive accomplishments including elimination of the use of ozone-depleting chloroflourocarbons; adoption of environmental product design practices and ISO 14000 environmental management systems; development of lead-free soldering, components, products; some firms' adoption of occupational health and safety system; and even a few which have recognised trade unions. Much remains to be done however, he argued, to make electronics manufacturing more socially and environmentally sustainable.
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