CHINA TOPIX

Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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Cancer Cluster Strikes Chinese iPhone Factory

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(Photo : Reuters) A factory used by Apple is the site of a spike in leukemia cases.

Apple is taking "very seriously" what may be a cancer cluster at its main iPhone production facility in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong. Thirteen workers, ranging from 19 to 24 have been diagnosed with leukemia; five of the cases proved fatal. 

Incidents of the blood cancer, which usually strikes either the very young or very old, began to appear in 2010. Suki Chung, executive director of Labour Action China, said she believed the 13 known cases in Shenzhen were 'the tip of the iceberg' and that many more workers had succumbed to the disease. However, when workers are diagnosed with the disease, Chung charges they are then dismissed, denied medical coverage, and must pay for treatment, often debilitatingly expensive, by themselves. 

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Chung and families of the victims suspect that two chemicals used in the assembly lines of the iPhone and iPad, benzene and n-hexane, are to blame. 

Found in nature and used as a common industrial solvent, benzene has long been recognized as toxic. In America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services both warn that "prolonged" exposure (a year or more) to benzene can cause leukemia. Though not a known carcinogen, n-hexane can cause neurological damage.

Both chemicals were banned by Apple last month, as reported by ChinaTopix in August.

The factory makes products for several companies, including Apple. Foxconn, the Taiwan-based owner of the facility, insists there is no link between the cancer spike and its work environment, and denies the chemicals were present.

In a statement, a Foxconn representative addressed the situation by saying, "We can also confirm that the employees who were diagnosed with leukaemia held different positions and job functions while working at our company across different product lines and customers, as the majority of our campuses in China serve multiple customers and manufacture a variety of products — there is no commonality, including links with any chemical agents, associated with the work they were doing.

"Foxconn does not allow any entity within our company to use benzene or n-hexane, and has not procured or used these chemicals in any aspect of our operations for many years."

After a 4-month investigation into 22 China-based factories, Apple said that if found no evidence the chemicals posed a threat. In a statement, the company said, benzene and n-hexane were "in low concentrations and each use complied with our Regulated Substances Specification."

Apple's senior director for supplier responsibility, Jacky Haynes, says the company and Foxconn are "working closely" on the matter.

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