Apple computer admits to toxic chemicals at Chinese factory

Apple, the computer company behind the iPod and iPad, offically admitted today that 137 workers "suffered adverse health effects" from exposure to a toxic chemical in cleaning agents used at one of its factories in China, according to a report on the technology Web site cnet.

The chemical, n-hexane, was found at a plant in the city of Suzhou in eastern China which is operated by the Wintek corporation. The admission comes in Apple's Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report.

From the cnet report:

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"Apple considers this series of incidents to be a core violation for worker endangerment," the report, available online, reads. "We required Wintek to stop using n-hexane and to provide evidence that they had removed the chemical from their production lines. In addition, Apple required them to fix their ventilation system. Since these changes, no new workers have suffered difficulties from chemical exposure."

Long-term, high-level exposure to n-hexane can damage the peripheral nervous system and eventually the spinal cord, leading to weak and atrophied muscles, male infertility, and even paralysis. The chemical is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency owing not only to potential carcinogenic properties but also to environmental concerns. Apple says it will conduct a total re-audit of Wintek's facility in 2011.

The Apple report also reveals that only 32 percent of audited facilities comply with the company's maximum 60-hour, 6-day work week; in 2009, compliance was at 46 percent. In the U.S., 60-hour work weeks were deemed excessive in the 1880s, when factory workers pushed for 8-hour work days, according to a Business Week report. More recently, Apple has called 60-plus-hour work weeks "excessive" but 60-hour work weeks "normal," according to this 2006 BBC report, while The New York Times found in 2007 that factories in China supplying corporations such as Wal-Mart, Disney, and Dell were forcing employees to work 16-hour days on fast-moving assembly lines.


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