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The common perception of high-technology industries, such as semiconductor manufacturing, is of employees wearing white suits in clean, bright, comfortable workplaces. Although accurate in many cases, many of the high-tech workers in this industry risk exposure to a wide variety of hazards. Many microelectronics production processes involve chemical interactions, chemical cleaning, and various light and radiation exposures. Most work is completed on an assembly line with a very fine level of detail and precision. Hazards range from acute and chronic exposures to toxic chemicals, to radiation and electric shock, and to stress and fatigue. Briefly, hazards can be categorized as resulting from exposure to solvents, alkalis, metals, gases, vapors, radiation, and for workplace stress. In addition, other potential hazards that employers and employees should be aware of include falls, overexertion, sprains/strains, and injuries from stationary objects or from being caught in, under, or between objects. In this industry, production workers are those most frequently exposed to hazardous conditions. Nearly every production job involves the use of chemicals for cleaning, stripping, or degreasing parts and equipment. Maintenance personnel who enter enclosed or confined spaces are also exposed to toxic substances. Less than 40 years old, the semiconductor industry has expanded greatly. Due to rapid changes in this industry, manufacturing processes and their associated hazards may change completely every few years. These changes make hazard assessments more difficult to complete and require that they be conducted more often.
The computer/electronics industry, of which semiconductor manufacturing is a subset, is affected by several major federal environmental statutes. In addition, the industry is subject to numerous laws and regulations from state and local governments designed to protect and improve the nation's health, safety, and environment.
Under the CAA, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) have been established for six pollutants. One that significantly impacts the electronics/computer industry is the standard for ozone. Also, the electronics/computer industry is a major source of volatile organic compounds (VOC).
The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program regulates the discharge of pollutants to the waters of the United States. A permit is required if a source discharges directly to surface waters. Priority pollutants likely to be discharged by facilities in the electronics/computer industry include copper, lead, lead compounds, silver, chromium, and trichloroethylene. Examples of hazardous substances and non-conventional pollutants likely to be discharged by the electronics/computer industry include butyl acetate, xylene, formaldehyde, tin-total, nitrate/nitrites, titanium-total, and chlorine-total residual.
Many wastes generated by the electronics/computer industry are considered RCRA toxicity characteristic (TC) hazardous wastes due to constituents such as silver, trichloroethylene, and lead.
Emergency planning and community right to know
Three of the components of EPCRA are directly relevant to the computer/electronics industry:
- Emergency Planning - Businesses that produce, use or store "hazardous substances" must: 1) submit material safety data sheets or the equivalent, and 2) Tier I/Tier II annual inventory report forms to the appropriate local emergency planning commission. Those handling "extremely hazardous substances" also are required to submit a one-time notice to the state emergency response commission.
- Emergency Notification of Extremely Hazardous Substance Release - A business that unintentionally releases a reportable quantity of an extremely hazardous substance must report that release to the state emergency planning commission and the local emergency planning commission.
- Release Reporting - Manufacturing businesses with ten or more employees that manufactured, processed, or otherwise used a listed toxic chemical in excess of the "established threshold" must file annually a Toxic Chemical Release form with EPA and the state.
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