Between May 2008 and August 2009, workers at China's Suzhou industrial park slaved away, cleaning touchscreens for Apple's iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. The chemical used, hexyl hydride or "n-hexane", made workers ill.
The chemical evaporates faster than alcohol, which is why the Chinese factory, owned by Taiwan's Wintek, began using it to speed up production. According to Reuters, workers experienced swollen and numbness in their hands as well as pain in their feet, tiredness and faintness. A chemical pathologist tells Reuters that daily exposure to hexyl hydrid can even cause irreversible nerve damage.
Workers did wear protective gear; however, the factory did not have suitable ventilation when it switched to the chemical from alcohol. Over 100 workers were hospitalised. "I hope Apple can respect our labour and our dignity. I hope they can stand up and apologise to us," says one 27-year-old factory worker Jia Jingchuan ended up in the hospital for eight months. Wintek said the chemical could safely be used; however, the factory is apparently no longer using it.
A group of workers is sending a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, appealing to the company to address their health concerns. "From when hexyl hydride was used, monthly profits at Apple and Wintek have gone up by tens of millions every month, the accumulated outcome of workers' lives and health," states the letter.
Workers say that they cannot cope with any future medical costs and are thus forced to stay at the factory and see what happens. "We just feel very helpless now," said one worker.