Apple, which is less than a month away from introducing a new iPhone and iPad and possibly more items, has just decided to ban certain chemicals from the final production phase of iPhones and iPads to protect factory workers from exposure to toxins that have been linked to cancer and nerve damage.
The chemicals in question are benzene and n-hexane. They are used on glass screens, ostensibly to make them shinier.
The ban was not entirely Apple's idea. Several months ago, two activist groups, China Labor Watch and Green America, petitioned the company to stop the use of benzene and n-hexane in iPhone production.
Apple claims to have conducted a four-month investigation at 22 factories and did not find any evidence that the two chemicals were impacting the health of 500,000 factory workers. No environmental traces of the chemicals were found at 18 factories, and acceptable safety levels were found at the other four factories.
Out of an abundance of caution, Apple still ordered its suppliers to stop using benzene and n-hexane during the final assembly of not just the iPhone, but also the iPad, iPod, iMac computers and certain other products.
"This is doing everything we can think of to do to crack down on chemical exposures and to be responsive to concerns," said Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environmental initiatives. "We think it's really important that we show some leadership and really look toward the future by trying to use greener chemistries."
Benzene is a known carcinogen, which has been linked with leukemia if mishandled. N-hexane can cause nerve damage. Both chemicals are used in solvents that clean electronics. If benzene seems familiar, it is also found in gasoline, cigarettes, paints, glues and detergents.
Apple is not asking suppliers to stop using the chemicals altogether. They can still be used in earlier stages of production that take place at other plants, but in smaller amounts than allowed previously.
Most of the plants where the substances are now banned are in China. The remaining four factories are in Brazil, Ireland, Texas and California.
With several new products about to break out that, until now, incorporated these chemicals, it might indicate that Apple has found safer substitutes or that they intend to use a new process on glass displays that eliminates the need for chemical treatment. There is evidence for the latter in a Tech Times story about forthcoming new iPad Air models that may feature a new, anti-glare screen coating.