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Toxics in the Electronics Industry: A Talk by Ted Smith

The pioneer of high tech pollution reduction will hold a talk at Saratoga Library on Feb. 19 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

When it became apparent in the 1980s that so-called clean rooms weren’t so clean, environmental groups worked with Silicon Valley government agencies and high tech companies to limit the pollution making its way to our air and water. Now as manufacturing of the Valley’s high tech electronics move overseas, so too, do those pollution problems.

How to bring more awareness to the concern and what to do about it is the topic at a free presentation and talk by Ted Smith on “Toxics in the Electronics Industry” at the Saratoga Library on Feb. 19. The event is sponsored Silicon Valley United Nations Association

“There will be discussion on what those here in Silicon Valley can be doing to promote a more sustainable industry that will do a better job here and around the world,” Smith said.

Smith is the founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which was a leader in pressuring computer and electronics manufacturers into cleaning up groundwater contamination caused by production practices. A pioneer in the reduction of toxics and pollution Smith is now cofounder and coordinator for the International Campaign for Responsible Technology that is working on long-term strategies to promote sustainability within the global tech industries.

His 30-minute presentation—followed by an open discussion period—will give a history of the development of high tech, how it moved out around the world and how environmental concerns initially found here are now being found in places like Taiwan, Mexico, Korea, and throughout Asia.

“I’m hoping that (the audience) are people who are aware of some of the challenges we’ve faced here. We’re part of a global village—what happens here does and have impacts around the world,” Smith said.

Chemical exposure from chemicals leaked into groundwater in Silicon Valley resulted in a “slew of families that came forward living in the most polluted areas” who were suffering from illnesses related to the chemicals they were exposed to, miscarriages and birth defects, he said.

“The same pattern has emerged in other areas,” Smith said.

In places like Taiwan where LCD screens are manufactured factories are discharging waste in rivers. The pollution is threatening “their whole way of life.”

It’s a concern Smith said isn’t getting a lot of attention outside stories such as Apple’s manufacturing partner Foxconn that made headlines for workers’ illnesses and mistreatment of employees in its massive factories.

Out of sight, out of mind, Smith says; unless there is someone to shine a light onto the subject it’s “easy to ignore.”

With a global reach of many companies “you’d think the headquarters would be aware” but most of the time “people at the headquarters don’t know what chemicals are being used,” Smith says.

And possibly they don’t want to know.

Supply chains and companies such as Apple could turn a blind eye to practices that keep costs low, and foreign governments are “so enthusiastic about the prospect of economic development of expanding factories” that they look away from the realities, too.

Smith hopes that with events such as the “Toxics in the Electronics Industry” on Feb. 19 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. will get people talking and working toward global solutions to pollution.

Saratoga Library is located at13650 Saratoga Ave., Saratoga.

Frank Geefay February 15, 2013 at 05:07 PM
I remember those days only 3 decades ago when we use TCE (Tetrachloroethylene) as a degreasing agent and dumped it into underground storage tanks that leaked into the ground and when HF (hydrofluoric acid) used to etch IC circuits was dumped into the public drain. We used highly toxic Diborane and Arsine gas as diffusion dopants for our IC circuits and did a simple burn off before venting these toxic gases into the atmosphere. We used many highly toxic and carcinogenic chemical for manufacturing chips and PC boards. Today these chemicals are tightly regulated; some have been ban such as TCE, and storage and disposal protocol very well defined. But in those early days we didn't know any better and got the stuff on our hands and dumped thousands of tons of highly toxic chemicals into our drain and ground waters systems and air. Reflecting back on what I exposed myself to I'm amazed that I am still alive. It is after I learned how these toxic pollutants poisoned and destroyed our environment that I eventually became an environmentalist.
Anne Ernst February 15, 2013 at 11:04 PM
Isn't it surprising to learn that some of these same practices are going on in Asia and other places?
Frank Geefay February 16, 2013 at 02:58 AM
I hadn't thought of that but you are correct. There are still many industrializing nations that do not have regulatory agencies to look after the health and safety of employees or curb commercial pollution of the environment. Health and safety of employees is costly and often overlooked by manufacturers to keep down expenses, especially in places without regulations. That is why regulatory agencies are so essential. They keep our food safe to eat and our workplace and environment safe to inhabit. There are those that want to eliminate regulatory agencies because they add cost to our domestically manufactured products. I say better pay for safety now than be later sorry.

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