Toxic Trade News / 8 February 2007
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High-Tech industry contaminating rivers and underground water in Asia and Mexico
Greenpeace Press Release
8 February 2007 (Amsterdam, International) – Greenpeace today released ‘Cutting Edge Contamination: A study of environmental pollution during the manufacture of electronic products’ (1). The report shows that some of the electronics industries’ biggest brands, and their suppliers, are contaminating rivers and underground wells with a wide range of hazardous chemicals.

Analysis of samples taken from industrial estates in China, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand, reveals the release of hazardous chemicals in each of the three sectors investigated: printed wiring board (PWB) manufacture, semiconductor chip manufacture and component assembly (2).

Most noteworthy was the discovery at the majority of sites investigated of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a group of brominated chemicals used as flame retardants, and of phthalates, chemicals used in a wide range processes and materials, though they are most commonly used as plasticisers (softeners) in some plastics (3).

“Over recent years we have seen an increasing concern over the use of hazardous chemicals in electronic products but attention has focussed on the contamination released during disposal or ‘recycling of electronic waste’”, said Dr. Kevin Brigden from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories. “Our findings of contamination arising during the manufacturing stage make it clear that only when we factor in the complete life cycle will the full environmental costs of electronic devices begin to emerge.”

The electronics industry is truly global with individual components manufactured at specialised facilities around the world often involving highly resource and chemical intensive processes, generating hazardous wastes, the fate and effects of which are still very poorly documented.

“There is shockingly little information on precisely which major brand companies are supplied by which manufacturing facilities. Responsibility for the contamination lies as much with those brands as with the facilities themselves,” said Zeina Alhajj, Toxics Campaigner, Greenpeace International, “There has to be full transparency regarding the supply chain within the electronics industry, so that brand owners are forced to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of producing their goods."

The study also documents the contamination of groundwater aquifers at a number of sites, particularly around semiconductor manufacturers, with toxic chlorinated volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and toxic metals including nickel. Contamination of groundwater is of particular concern, since local communities in many places use groundwater for drinking water. At one site, the Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZA) in the Philippines, three samples contained chlorinated VOCs above World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for drinking water. One sample contained tetrachloroethene at 9 times above the WHO guidance values for exposure limits and 70 times the US Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level for drinking water. Elevated levels of metals, particularly copper, nickel and zinc, were also found in groundwater samples in some sites (4).

The use of such toxic chemicals in manufacturing processes also poses potential risks to workers through workplace exposure.

Wastewater discharged from an IBM site in Guadalajara, Mexico contained hazardous compounds, including some (such as the potent hormone disruptor nonylphenol) which were not found at other sites. IBM’s ‘Supplier Conduct Principles Guidelines’ state that suppliers should operate in a manner that is protective of the environment. “IBM should act upon our findings and investigate activities at the site in order to prevent any releases of persistent organic compounds from the Guadalajara site,” Al-Hajj stressed.

“The tragic and undocumented persistent contamination of people and the environment by the global electronics industry, which hides behind the anonymity of its supplier chain, must end. These facilities and the brands which pay for them must be fully investigated and the pollution must stop. Electronics manufacturing remains at the cutting edge of technological development and has a strong economic future. There is no reason why it should not also be at the cutting edge when it comes to clean designs and technologies, substitution of hazardous chemicals, greater worker health protection and the prevention of environmental pollution at source,” concluded Zeina Alhajj.


Related Reports: Cutting Edge Contamination - A Study of Environmental Pollution during the manufacture of Electronic Products - 08 February 2007

Contact information:

Dr. Kevin Brigden, Greenpeace Research Laboratories in Exeter, +44 7968 844906
Zeina al-Hajj, Greenpeace International, Campaign coordinator +31653128904
Natalia Tuchi, Greenpeace International, Media officer +31 646162029



1. Online version available at:

2. The report analyses samples taken from: IBM, HP, Intel, Sony and Sanyo, Fortune, Compeq, Elec&Eltek, CKL Electronics, KCE, PCTT, On Semicon (also known as on Semiconductor), Kemet, Flextronics, Jabil, Solectron, and Sanmina; and industrial estates where some of these are situated: Navanakorn, Bangpa-in, Hi-Tech, Rojana, Gateway Business Park, Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZA)

3. PBDEs and many phthalates are known to be toxic, and some are also persistent in the environment. Certain PBDEs are highly bioaccumulative (able to build up to high concentrations in animals and humans).

4. Copper and Nickel are widely used in the PWB manufacture of electronics. Effects from copper to aquatic life can occur at very low levels including reduction in growth and fertility rate. Ingestion of some nickel compounds can cause toxic effects in humans and animals.

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