In January 2010, workers at a Chinese factory owned by Wintek, an Apple manufacturing partner, went on strike over a variety of issues, including widespread rumors that workers were being exposed to toxins. Investigations by news organizations revealed that over a hundred employees had been injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis.
Employees said they had been ordered to use n-hexane to clean iPhone screens because it evaporated almost three times as fast as rubbing alcohol. Faster evaporation meant workers could clean more screens each minute.I guess they can't get branched alkanes over there? I note that cyclohexane has a boiling point of 80°C, but isohexane's is 60°C.
(Note to any potential Google searchers: Mike Daisey is wrong that hexane is a "potent neurotoxin." Hexane itself is not the neurotoxin, it's the lysine adduct of the hexane metabolite, 2,5-hexanedione. (Not that it really matters to the poor kid whose hands are shaking.))
There's also a passage in the New York Times article about an explosion that killed a number of employees because of ambient aluminum dust from polishing iPad cases:
In its most recent supplier responsibility report, Apple wrote that after the explosion, the company contacted “the foremost experts in process safety” and assembled a team to investigate and make recommendations to prevent future accidents.
In December, however, seven months after the blast that killed Mr. Lai, another iPad factory exploded, this one in Shanghai. Once again, aluminum dust was the cause, according to interviews and Apple’s most recent supplier responsibility report. That blast injured 59 workers, with 23 hospitalized.
“It is gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected,” said Nicholas Ashford, the occupational safety expert, who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.”That's a pretty depressing thing to hear. What is frustrating, just like Ashford says, this is an easily monitored and addressable issue.
It really makes a person wonder about the other, less well-known hazards in Chinese manufacturing. What's the safety record of Wuxi PharmaTech, anyhow? It's my assumption that many Aldrich reagents are made in China -- do they audit their suppliers' safety?
If anyone knows anything about this, please e-mail me or write in the comments. I'd love to hear about it.