Death by Design
Al Jazeera (2017)
Death By Design is a very concerning documentary about the extremely toxic chemicals used in the production of semiconductors and circuit boards needed for computers, cellphones ipods, etc.
It turns out IBM has been keeping a mortality register since the 1970s showing an extremely high rate of breast cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer and melanoma in in electronics assembly workers. Unsurprisingly there are also high levels of carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals in the ground water of various Silicon Valley neighborhoods. Thanks to the tireless organizing and lobbying efforts of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, in 2001 the EPA declared a number of Silicon Valley companies Superfund Sites* in 2001 (IBM, Intel, National Semiconductor, Hewlett Packard among others).
This, in turn, would lead most Silicon Valley companies to outsource their electronics assembly to China, where environmental regulations are much weaker.
At the moment China also deals with most of the world’s toxic e-waste, a problem significantly compounded by deliberate planned obsolescence on the part of tech companies. Our Smartphones, computers, etc are deliberately designed to cease operating after about four years so we have to buy new ones. The most famous example is the Apple iphone, with the infamous battery that goes dead after 18 months and can’t be replaced.
Apple and their main Chinese contractor Foxconn are also the worst offenders in resisting Chinese environmentalists who are trying to reduce toxic discharges to Chinese rivers and streams.
The part of the film I found most interesting relates to a company called Ifixit, which specializes in teaching Smartphone and computer users how to fix their own devices instead of replacing them. They have even developed a special screwdriver to open Iphones so the batteries can be replaced.
I was also intrigued to learn about an Irish company that builds totally non-toxic and upgradable laptops out of wood (instead of plastic) that last 7-10 years.
*When the EPA declares a company a toxic Superfund Site, the company is required to develop and pay for removing the toxic chemicals.