Regulations haven’t kept up with innovations in manufacturing. The federal government acknowledges its safety standards for toxic chemicals are “outdated and inadequate for ensuring protection of worker health.” Many haven’t been updated in over fifty years. Former Occupational Safety and Health Administration director David Michaels estimates that 90% of OSHA’s permissible exposure levels date to industry standards of the 1960s and are not safe. OSHA penalties for exposing workers to dangerous chemicals are light. The maximum penalty for a serious violation is just $15,625.
When regulations do exist, there is a huge disparity between what regulatory bodies consider “permissible” and what science tells us are safe exposure limits. For example, Cal/OSHA, which has the strongest exposure limits in the country, allows workers to be exposed to 100 parts per million to Ethylbenzene, but biomedical literature detected serious adverse health effects at 0.06 parts per million, more than 1,660 times lower than the legally allowable exposure.
After laws regulating toxic chemical use in the workplace were passed in Silicon Valley and throughout the U.S. in the 1980s, the chip industry started to outsource its production, as well as its hazards. Many young women workers died of cancer after working at a Samsung chip factory in Korea. In the U.S. and abroad, semiconductor manufacturing has exposed women of child-bearing age to thousands of workplace toxins, resulting in miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, and chronic illness.