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Chinese Apple suppliers face toxic heavy metal water pollution charges

Foxconn denies allegations, Apple reiterates zero-tolerance stance

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Chinese environmental regulators have launched an investigation into two Apple suppliers – one being the giant iDevice assembler Foxconn – in response to allegations that the companies' factories are using nearby rivers as dumping grounds for huge amounts of toxic heavy metals.

"If you're severely exceeding emissions standards, then we will punish you," Chinese environmental regulator Ding Yudong told The Wall Street Journal, speaking of the investigations into Foxconn and UniMicron.

Both companies are based in Taiwan, are listed among Apple's suppliers, and have manufacturing plants in mainland China. The factories in question are in the industrial area of Kushan, located between Shanghai and Suzhou.

According to the WSJ, the investigations were sparked by allegations from Chinese activist and 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Ma Jun, a director of China's Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE).

Four other environmental groups joined the IPE in accusing Foxconn and UniMicron of dumping heavy metals into the Huangcangjing and Hanputang rivers. Those two rivers flow into the Yangtze and Huangpu rivers, which supply Shanghai with drinking water.

Foxconn has denied the charges, telling Bloomberg that its Kushun factory follows all applicable environmental regulations. Plant manager Yang Jixian was said much the same, according to China's Xinhua News Agency. UniMicron remains mum.

Apple spokeswoman Kitty Potter told Bloomberg, "We do not tolerate environmental violations of any kind and regularly audit our suppliers to make sure they are in compliance."

The WSJ interviewed a few Kushan locals about the levels of pollution in nearby rivers. One, Zhao Pingxing, said, "We used to catch cuttlefish there, and it was so clear we could see a meter down," he said – and told the WSJ that although he occasionally fishes there these days, he doesn't eat what he catches.

Another, identified only by his surname Yao, said, "Even if my hands were dirty, I wouldn't wash them in this water."

That water, however, is second in line in China's environmental cleanup plans. Late last month, the Middle Kingdom announced that it would spend $277bn on an effort it's calling the Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan in response, no doubt, to such events as the choking "Airpocalypse" that blanketed the Beijing area this January.

Water pollution, however, is on the Chinese government's list for cleanup efforts over the next five years, according to China Daily. Perhaps after that program begins, the regulations that Foxconn, UniMicron, and others will face will be more stringent, Zhao will be able to eat his fish, Yao will be able to wash his hands, and Potter will no longer have to issue canned "We do not tolerate environmental violations" statements. ®

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