The Darker Side of Silicon Valley
Nick Spinelli ' 17, Sustainability Intern for Academic Programs
For all the good tech giants like IBM, Intel, and Apple have done in driving technology to faster, more powerful solutions, there is a darker side to their impact on the communities around the Silicon Valley. Before these companies moved their production processes overseas, semiconductors and computers were assembled in the Valley, where the toxic byproducts of production leaked into the surrounding communities. The discovery of these toxins spurred grassroots organizations like the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) to take a stance against the harm these companies were causing. One of SVTC’s greatest accomplishments was to push the EPA to intervene and assist in the cleanup of the hazardous sites around the Valley’s tech companies. Despite these issues being raised over 30 years ago, the environmental contamination and injustices around the Silicon Valley are still relevant today.
Since we all want to live healthier and ensure that we are not exposed to harmful chemicals in our daily lives, utilize publically released hazardous site maps to REDUCE your potential exposures. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services TOXMAP, the Bay Area features 148 Toxic Release Inventory sites and 31 Superfund sites. These listed sites are known to contain chemicals and heavy metals like lead, arsenic, benzene, and chloroform, so it’s important to make sure the areas around where you might be living are not at risk.
When the latest iPhone or MacBook is released, people flood to the stores to get their hands on the newest products. A year later, they do the same ritual for the next model. REUSE your electronics for another six months, a year, or more beyond when the “new” model goes to shelves; by the time your product ACTUALLY needs to be replaced you’ll have made the most out of your purchase. Don’t fall victim to the marketing scheme of perceived obsolescence...break the annual upgrade cycle!
E-waste disposal is a root cause of the release of toxins throughout the Silicon Valley and the world. Be sure to RECYCLE your electronics in a sustainable manner that controls the disposal of your batteries, phones, computers, and other electronics. Use the blue towers and designated e-waste disposal areas around your residence halls to ensure your electronics are properly recycled, or bring your e-waste to an Electronics Takeback Coalition approved facility. ECS Refining’s corporate headquarters are located less than two miles away off Lafayette Street!
Statistically, environmental justice issues impact marginalized communities the most. When considering these discussions of pollution, it is important to recognize and RESPECT the individuals who are at the greatest risk. Economically and socially poorer communities feature some of the worst environmental hazard sites in the Bay Area, like the Chevron Oil Refinery in Richmond. Support the fight against these environmental injustices by volunteering with Bay Area organizations like Greenaction and PODER.