Special Correspondent

Ministry must pay attention: Greenpeace

  • Hazardous chemicals released during manufacture of semiconductor chips
  • Study shows evidence of environmental contamination

    NEW DELHI: Some of the biggest brands in electronics industries and their suppliers are contaminating rivers and underground wells with a wide range of hazardous chemicals, according to a Greenpeace survey.

    An analysis of samples taken from industrial estates in China, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand has revealed the release of hazardous chemicals during the manufacture of printed wiring board (PWB) and semiconductor chips, and the component assembly. The highly toxic polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), widely used as brominated flame-retardants, are used in a wide range of processes.

    Explosive consumption

    India is witnessing an explosive consumption of electronic goods and equipment, and is on its way to becoming the choice destination for manufacturing.

    "It is imperative that India pay heed to the alarm bells being sounded on the environmental and human health front. It is time the IT Ministry realised its responsibility to regulate the toxic impact of this industry hand in hand with promoting its growth," said Vinuta Gopal of Greenpeace India.

    "In fact, even as governments worldwide, including China, recognise that toxic contamination from e-waste is a looming environmental disaster, and enforce a phase-out of toxic chemicals, India does nothing. This inaction on the part of the Government is nothing short of shocking, the IT Ministry and Ministry of Environment and Forests are abdicating their responsibilities," she said.

    The study, "Cutting-Edge Contamination," was undertaken to highlight the environmental contamination resulting from manufacture of electronic equipment such as computers. Discharged wastewaters and sediments from discharge pipes/channels were analysed near PWB facilities and one component assembly facility. Where possible, treated wastewaters and treatment sludges/sediments from wastewaters and treatment plants were also collected and groundwater samples from many sites analysed.

    Evidence of environmental contamination by a diverse range of chemicals, many with known uses in this industry, was found in each of the three sectors investigated. These included both chemicals incorporated in the products and chemicals used in manufacturing processes, many with known toxicity to humans and other potential environmental impacts.

    Chemicals found

    Some chemicals were found in waste streams from more than one sector, including some toxic and environmentally persistent groups such as PBDEs, phthalates used as plasticisers (softeners) in plastics, certain chlorinated solvents and high levels of some heavy metals.

    Other chemicals found in waste streams and groundwater samples were specific to each of the manufacturing sectors, for example brominated flame-retardant tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA) and photo initiator-related chemicals at PWB manufacturing sites.

    Flame-retardants are chemicals added to a wide variety of materials, including casings and components of many electronic goods. Two widely used groups of chemicals are PBDEs and TBBPA.