Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Did the manufacture of your iPhone make someone sick?

(Corrects name of author on March 17 and 6:38 p.m. ET)
This story by Kathleen E. McLaughlin is part of an ongoing GlobalPost investigation into the supply chains that make some of your favorite electronic gadgets.  In this installment, GlobalPost examined the fallout after a factory that supplies Apple and Nokia used the toxic solvent n-hexane in violation of local codes and without proper safety equipment. Though seven current and former workers said the chemical was used on Apple touch screens, Apple refused to comment.

SUZHOU, China — The mysterious illness began with an odd tingling of the fingers one week, a creeping numbness in the feet the next.

Sometimes, deep and painful muscle cramps would wake the factory workers from their dorm beds. Weeks later, many of the workers simply couldn’t walk right, staggering across the factory grounds, and struggling with once-nimble fingers to clean the delicate touch screens used in trendy gadgets. They had no idea that as they worked, the solvent they used to clean the screens was attacking their peripheral nerves. Unseen damage left them weak, shaky and often in pain. Sometimes their vision would blur. Headaches were common.

GlobalPost recently visited a hospital ward where more than two dozen sick workers remain under care for nerve damage sustained last summer at Wintek’s factory in Suzhou. After interviewing seven former and current workers, as well as families, friends and labor activists, plus reviewing medical records and corporate documents, we’ve learned the health damage done to workers is more severe than portrayed in previous accounts.