Apple halts use of two harmful chemicals in iPhone assembly

​The tech giant bans the use of benzene and n-hexane in the final assembly of its devices and lowers the maximum use in early production phases.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Apple's iPhone 5S. Apple

Benzene and n-hexane are chemicals thought to cause cancer and nerve damage, and they both have been used in the final assembly of Apple's iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Mac computers -- until now.

The tech giant announced Wednesday that it is banning the use of benzene and n-hexane in the final assembly of all of its devices, according to The Associated Press. The prohibition is said to be part of Apple's effort to protect factory workers who build its gadgets.

While both the chemicals are potentially hazardous, Apple conducted a four-month investigation at 22 factories and concluded that they did not endanger any of the 500,000 workers at these plants, according to The Associated Press. In fact, the chemicals were only found at four of the factories and Apple determined they with within normal safety levels. Despite these findings, Apple went ahead with the ban.

Five months ago activist groups China Labor Watch and Green America petitioned Apple to stop using the two chemicals. They cited benzene as being classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a risky carcinogen that can cause leukemia and other blood disorders, and n-hexane as having been associated with nerve damage.

While Apple will still permit the substances in the early production phases of its devices, it's lowering the maximum amount allowed, according to The Associated Press. The chemicals are typically found in cleaning solvents.

"This is doing everything we can think of to do to crack down on chemical exposures and to be responsive to concerns," Apple's vice president of environmental initiatives Lisa Jackson 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."

The ban comes after Apple has been criticized for turning a blind eye toward labor violations in its suppliers' factories, including long hours, low wages, and poor living conditions. Apple has since carried out audits at these manufacturers and maintains it's committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout its supply chain.

CNET contacted Apple for comment. We'll update the story when we have more information.