Apple was the focus of concern due to its use of specific chemicals in its manufacturing process, particularly benzene and n-hexane.
Benzene is a clear, colorless liquid with an odor similar to gasoline. Workers in oil refineries, chemical plants, and foundries can be exposed to high levels of the chemical. It is highly flammable, and is a chemical to which we’re exposed on a daily basis through gasoline and car exhaust. Although it evaporates easily, it can still be inhaled through vapors and can be absorbed through the skin.
Long-term exposure to benzene even in low concentrations is linked to serious blood disorders, anemia, leukemia and other cancers.
N-hexane is also a colorless liquid, with a light unpleasant odor. It is also highly flammable, and is mainly used in solvents to extract vegetable oil from plants and in cleaning products, and can also be found in quick-drying glues.
Although Apple allows a restricted use of benzene and n-hexane on products during early production phases, in 2014 it completely eliminated the use of these two chemicals during the final assembly phase. The company also ordered tests for substances to be sure they are free of benzene and n-hexane.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), benzene is a carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia. The CDC also warns that workers exposed to high concentrations of n-hexane can develop severe nerve damage.
“This is doing everything we can think of to do to crack down on chemical exposures and to be responsive to concerns,” Lisa Jackson, Apple vice president of environmental initiatives, told the Associated Press. “We think it’s really important that we show some leadership and really look toward the future by trying to use greener chemistries.”