Researchers have found that semiconductor manufacturing has caused the accumulation of toxic compounds in workers’ bodies, resulting in several types of cancer and reproductive toxicity, difficulty in reproducing and/or illnesses in workers’ children.
The manufacture of semiconductors – integrated circuits found in more of our electrical devices than we can probably count – involves four basic steps. First, silicon is purified and highly purified silicon wafers are produced. Secondly, integrated circuits are produced through the removal and addition of several wafer surfaces through the use of chemicals. Third, is the assembly of every integrated circuit on the wafer’s surfaces to create the finished product. Finally, the finished product is tested.
The manufacturing process uses and/or produces a variety of chemicals or compounds, such as ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid, phosphoric acid, ethyl-3-ethyoxypropionateethyl benzene, chlorine, trifluoro methane, potassium hydroxide and formaldehyde, among many others. Several of those chemicals/compounds are toxic and/or carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
Several cases of cancer outbreaks were reported at semiconducting companies such as IBM in the U. S., National Semiconductor UK in the United Kingdom and Samsung in South Korea. The most stunning incidents of both cancers and reproductive toxicity apparently occurred in South Korea, where workers in Samsung Corporation’s semiconductor manufacturing plants have experienced infertility, miscarriages, leukemia, thyroid cancer, epithelial cancer and other serious illnesses being traced to their exposure to toxic chemicals in the semiconductor manufacturing process. Adding to their suffering, some of their children have serious illnesses traced to reproductive toxicity.
The initial reports about “semiconductor industrial diseases” created by working for Samsung were released in 2008, when former workers began linking their and their children’s multiple cancers and other serious illnesses to their work in semiconductor factories. Samsung denied any link between working conditions and the illnesses until Korean courts ruled for employees in several cases. Finally, in May 2014, Samsung distributed an apology to the former employees and their families, pledging to fairly compensate them.
It should be noted that the discovery of links between semiconductor manufacturing and diseases among workers and their children are relatively sparse due to the newness of the industry and trade secrets about the processes and chemicals in a highly competitive technical industry. Researchers urge more extensive, long-term studies to find or exclude the links and ultimately to safeguard the health and safety of employees and their families.
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