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Update: Apple Bans use of Benzene and n-Hexane in Final Assembly of Products

Since early 2014, Apple has been making headlines for their alleged use of benzene and n-hexane in the final assembly of its iPhones, iPads, iPods, and MAC computers. In response to the harsh public criticism, Apple initiated an investigation into 22 of its factories across the globe. After four months of inquiry, Apple announced this month that there was no evidence that either chemical endangered any of their roughly 500,000 factory workers. However, Apple investigators did find that 4 of the 22 factories had trace levels of benzene and/or n-hexane, but were operating within acceptable safety limits. Nonetheless, Apple announced that any products containing benzene and n-hexane will no longer be used during final assembly of its products.

Apples announcement came days before an appellate court in South Korea upheld a lower court decision finding that Samsung Electronics Co., one of Apple's largest competitors, was responsible for two of its production-line employees developing acute myeloid leukemia, leading to their deaths. The Seoul High Court stated that the two-employees were likely to have been exposed to cancer-causing substances "like benzene or radiation" during their work at a facility that makes wafers for semiconductors. However, this wasn't the first time that Samsung was found to have caused the death of one of its factory workers due to exposure to toxins. In 2012, the Korea Workers' Compensation and Welfare Service, a South Korean government agency, found that a Samsung factory worker had been exposed to organic solvents and radiation which led to her development of breast cancer and ultimately, her death.

Even now, Samsung continues to battle former employees who allege they developed various illnesses due to exposure to hazardous chemicals during their employment with Samsung. The ongoing cases against Samsung make it clear that Apple is not the only electronics company alleged to utilize hazardous substances in the production of their consumer products. However, environmental groups hope that by pushing Apple to clean up their factories, other electronics manufacturers will follow suit. With such ongoing legal issues plaguing Samsung, the possibility of future litigation by roughly 500,000 former Apple factory workers seems like it may have played a part in Apple's recent ban. Nonetheless, Apple's recent announcement has wider implications beyond the technology industry. The continuous media coverage on this issue has drawn the potential hazards associated with benzene and n-hexane exposure to the attention of the masses. The ramifications of such a wide audience who were previously unaware of benzene or n-hexane discovering that they are surrounded by various products containing even safe amounts of the chemicals will most likely play out in an expected way, a rise in lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of consumer products.

Categories: Toxic Torts
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