Industrial chemical hospitalizes many iPhone makers for many months

In China, people are being sickened by chemicals, both when manufacturing high-tech devices and when tearing apart and recycling outdated tech devices:

In a small factory space workers apply a solvent to a well known computer logo before affixing them to laptops. They suffer chronic illness and end up in hospital with an uncertain future. Elsewhere we find workers from another much bigger factory convalescing from their protracted exposure to the same solvent used in their stage of the manufacturing process – cleaning the touch-screens of new generation devices. Some of these workers have been in hospital many months as their central nervous systems slowly repaired as best they could.

“I am back at work but my symptoms are still with me. My legs still hurt. This will accompany me for the rest of my life. It’s very painful.” COMPUTER ASSEMBLY WORKER

…This hospital in Suzhou has been treating more than a hundred workers who breathed in the vapours of a dangerous chemical. It was being used in the production of computers and in particular they say Apple products. We snuck into visit some of the workers who are still being treated. They didn’t want to show their faces.

WOMAN #1: I’ve been hospitalised for more than six months. I think as I’m getting better I’ll probably be able to leave hospital at the end of this year.

WOMAN #2: At first the symptoms were pretty obvious. My hands were numb. I could hardly walk or run.

MCDONELL: These young women use to finish off laptop computers by gluing on, measuring and then polishing Apple logos. For this they used a chemical used N-Hexane. One of the women has kept some of the logos they used to show that their work was connected to Apple products.

WOMAN #3: I think they knew it was poisonous to humans but if they used another chemical our output would not have been increased. Using N-Hexane was much more efficient.

MCDONELL: The workers have recovered considerably in recent months. They met us outside the hospital and showed us what it was like when they couldn’t walk properly. Doctors say that prolonged exposure to N-Hexane can harm the nervous system, lead to muscle damage and even cause paralysis.

WOMAN #2: The workspace was very small with no air circulation equipment.

MCDONELL: …Hu Zhiyong, Jia Jingchuan and more than 100 of their workmates also became sick after breathing in the vapours from the chemical N-Hexane. They, and 60 of their colleagues, were hospitalised for more than nine months.

As bad as this sounds, many times more Chinese workers are sickened while ripping apart dead machines, lighting the components on fire, and then smelling them to determine which recycling pile they belong in!

Posted by James on Saturday, October 30, 2010