In my first post on this topic, the tip of the iceberg was described. Now the questions about “How bad could it be?” are beginning to be explored.
On Friday, there was an explosion in the plant. It has been attributed to Magnesium and Aluminum dust which apparently also coat the workers’ hands and faces. Anyone familiar with high school chemistry knows how explosive even flour dust is.
Here's a video clip from the plant shortly after the explosion shot by a worker:
“An explosion at a Foxconn factory near Chengdu, China, has killed at least two people and injured 16, according to a statement sent from the company, which reportedly manufactures Apple iPads at the site. Local government officials referred to the factory as Foxconn's "polishing plant" and little solid information is known about the cause of the explosion--one English-language Chinese news site described it as "caused by a super-light dust explosion," and rumors circulating around Chengdu and through the media also allude to lightning strikes and problems with the ventilation system in the building.
Read more: http://news.cnet.com/two-die-in-explosion-at-foxconn-ipad-plant/8301-17938_105-20064773-1.html#ixzz1N4i2Mok5
Apparently there were rumors of a lightning strike (the Magnesium flash could be mistaken for that) and Security Guards warned the smoke was toxic.
Earlier, Apple warned about conditions at the plant per Cnet.
“Apple's just-released progress report (Apple's Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report) on the labor-related practices of its overseas parts suppliers reveals grim truths behind the making of such popular gadgets as the iPad and iPhone--including worker poisonings, child labor violations, and 60-plus-hour work weeks. The Supplier Responsibility 2011 Progress Report, released just weeks after Apple logged record profits of $6 billion, marks the first time the company has officially acknowledged that 137 workers "suffered adverse health effects" at Wintek's Suzhou factory in China (which supplies parts to Apple and Nokia) because of exposure to n-hexane, a toxic chemical in cleaning agents.”
Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-27083_3-20032074-247.html#ixzz1N4k6hBbn
Not trying to be inflammatory, but this is reprehensible. This is something to think about when considering purchases as well as diplomacy. I would think that with the leverage of such huge profits, Apple and other US firms could bypass our impotent government completely and demand conditions equal to the US with respect to worker health and safety, at least in the plants tied to them.
I would think that would be their responsibility as contracting parties with this manufacturer. Please, don’t anyone tell me “they didn’t know”. It was their responsibility to know and take strong steps to correct what was wrong. But then, that might cut into their profits… and after all, how would that look to the shareholders?
Well, how does this look? Does it look as good as a shiny little iOS 4 cell phone? Can anything justify this?
I’m sure the corporate types are shaking their heads and muttering regrets, showing feigned shock and saying all the right PC things, but guys ‘n girls – that just doesn’t cut it. Not by a long shot.
Update (5.24.11): Plant closed for safety inspection.
Appendix: Toxicity of n-Hexane (from the Wikipedia - these are quite accurate):
"The acute toxicity of hexane is relatively low, although it is a mild anesthetic. Inhalation of high concentrations produces first a state of mild euphoria, followed by somnolence with headaches and nausea.
The long-term toxicity of n-hexane in humans is well known. Extensive peripheral nervous system failure is known to occur in humans chronically exposed to levels of n-hexane ranging from 400 to 600 ppm, with occasional exposures up to 2,500 ppm. The initial symptoms are tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, followed by general muscular weakness. In severe cases, atrophy of the skeletal muscles is observed, along with a loss of coordination and problems of vision. Similar symptoms are observed in animal models. They are associated with a degeneration of the peripheral nervous system (and eventually the central nervous system), starting with the distal portions of the longer and wider nerve axons. The toxicity is not due to hexane itself but to one of its metabolites, hexane-2,5-dione. It is believed that this reacts with the amino group of the side chain of lysine residues in proteins, causing cross-linking and a loss of protein function.
Chronic intoxication from hexane has been observed in recreational solvent abusers and in workers in the shoe manufacturing, furniture restoration and automobile construction industries, and recently, plastic recyclers and assemblers and cleaners of capacitive touch-screen devices.
In 1994, n-hexane was included in the list of chemicals on the US Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations on the control of emissions of hexane gas due to its potential carcinogenic properties and environmental concerns."