Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Benzene carcinogen: Who is paying the price of cellphones we use?

Benzene carcinogen: Who is paying the price of cellphones we use?

Editor's Note: Benzene, a Category 1 carcinogen, is 4 times legal allowable levels at Marinwood Village because of pollutants from 101 Highway. Marinwood village has PCE toxic waste at 2000 times safe levels and is yards away from two high powered microwave towers.


You, me and millions of us use phones and tablets today as an integral part of our lives. We can’t even imagine a life without a phone in pocket or a tablet in purse/backpack today. We also agree “these Chinese phones and tablet, they flood the international market”. But have you realized that China in spite of leading the smartphone-making market is actually paying the price of this?

This huge industry employing millions of workers in the chips, display and assembling factories is actually marred with CANCER. Cancer, that is cause by the chemical Benzene is used heavily in industries in China.

Today we are coming across the news of Benzene scare in Lanzhou province in China which has resulted in flooding of markets and supermarkets. Consumers are looking for bottled water – it’s time to look back at the situation. We today bring you an in-depth on this critical and important industry which creates the devices to run on new age information highway.

Benzene scare today

The authorities in Lanzhou announced that a cancer-inducing chemical Benzene had been found in tap water at 20 times above national safety levels. This has resulted in rushing for bottled water.

According to a news report in Wall Street Journal the city of Lanzhou is known as one of its most polluted, particularly for the choking smog that frequently enshrouds the city of more than three million residents. “Excessive levels of benzene was detected in Lanzhou's tap water system on Fri, authorities said. Water not drinkable for the next 24 hours,” reported People’s Daily China.

This city is the center of a major industrial area and has been center of the country’s national nuclear power industry since the 1960s says a Wikipedia entry.

This was not the first time though. In 2005 an explosion at the chemical plant occurred on Nov. 13 2005 in Harbin, causing Benzene to leaked in the river. According to NewYork Times, The China Youth Daily reported that environmental officials in Jilin - instead of telling the public - had tried to dilute the spill with reservoir water.

[UPDATE: Yesterday Chinese officials has announced that most if the water in Lanzhou is now safe to drink. This Benzene leak in water affected about 2.4 million people.]

Why actually pays for the beautiful handset you are using?

But this BENZENE leak is not something I am looking at today. I am rather looking at the chemical in question – BENZENE and the electronics gadget we use. Who Pays Film has released a short 9:31 minute video that asks the cost of smartphone industry – “Who Pays the Price? The Human Cost of Electronics.”

The documentary movie looks at the hazards of the electronics industry in China profiling workers poisoned by chemicals and their struggle for a life. This short video takes you on a scary ride into the reality of poisoning (including Benzene) in the young factory workers, denial of compensation, their fight for survival and suicide at a young age. Watch the documentary here. By the time the video ends you will also say “That Bloody Benzene”.

With this short film, filmmakers Heather White & Lynn Zhang documented worker health and safety abuses at electronics factories in China. Though they aim at sensitive working environment in Apple factories, the issue does imply to all other industries using Benzene and other chemicals in the production process. GreenAmerica has also started a campaign “Bad Apple” because - because Apple is the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) leader in the consumer electronics industry.

However, other smartphone manufacturers also need to take big steps to protect their workers from toxic chemicals. They too need to hear from their consumers, says this not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1982.

The chemical Benzene is used in phone and tablet manufacturing process. In fact two activist groups recently started a campaign to “pressure the company into abandoning the use of two chemicals, benzene and n-hexane, in the production of the iPhone”, according to FoxNews.

China’s industry that manufactures phones/tablets

Well, technology does matters to us and to all people in the world, as it makes our lives easy. But for the people who work at the factories producing these gadgets, it’s a work including cleaning chips and parts all day long, in factories that are not even properly ventilated.

Apple gets its iPhone and iPad manufactured in China. It has been in news in the past because of labour related issues in the past. Motorola has its unit in China, so has Samsung, Lenovo, Qualcomm and dozen more. Most of the domestic smartphone companies in India get Chinese phone, rebrand these and sell in India.

“A new wave of Asian smartphone makers has emerged to help meet this demand for low-end handsets; companies such as Lenovo Group Ltd, ZTE Corp and Xiaomi Tech - the rising star of cheap, made-in-China smartphones,” says a report in Reuters.

“Chinese smartphone manufacturers shipped 347 million handsets in the first nine months” in 2013, said ChinaDaily in a report in October last year.

BENZENE – The train to CANCER

BENZENE a particular Category 1 carcinogen, is allowed in Chinese factories. For the young worker population that work six days a week to make a living in these factories with no or poor ventilation, the risk increases manifold.

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Samsung does an Apple: announces no partner uses child labor

This chemical is one of the most widely used chemicals that is used in making other chemicals, including plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

The chemical targets liver, kidney, lung, heart and the brain and can cause DNA strand breaks, chromosomal damage, etc. This is a notorious cause of bone marrow failure. Substantial quantities of epidemiologic, clinical, and laboratory data link benzene to aplastic anemia, acute leukemia, and bone marrow abnormalities, says another Wikipedia entry.

World Health Organization International Agency for Research in Cancer (which has also commented on whether cell phone radiation can cause cancer last year), has included Beneze in Category 1 of list of hazardous chemicals. It says “several case-control studies have also shown increased odds ratios for exposure to benzene, but mixed exposure patterns and poorly defined exposures render their interpretation difficult.” It further said “three independent cohort studies have demonstrated an increased incidence of acute nonlymphocytic leukaemia in workers exposed to benzene.” Read here.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) in US has classified benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen”, reports American Cancer Society.

How one gets the Benzene contamination is also important. “Benzene can pass through the skin. Benzene exposure through skin contact with gasoline or other solvents is possible. People can also absorb benzene as they bathe or shower in contaminated water” says Wisconsin department of health services.

Do you want young people to pay the price of your phone/tablet?

We are sure you want your gadgets to be green, eco friendly and you want them to be killer devices – in terms of speed and performance. You don’t want them to be murderers of people who toil hard to bring the device to you, do you?

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