Two potentially dangerous chemicals used in the manufacturing of iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other gadgets have been banned by Apple for late-stage use in its factories, the Associated Press reports. The two chemicals in question, benzene and n-hexane, are known carcinogens, and the decision comes after two activists groups, China Labor Watch and Green America, submitted a petition calling on the Cupertino-based company to stop using them.
What are they? According to the CDC, benzene is found naturally in smoke, and is used in various industries to make plastic, dyes, nylon, and other synthetic material. The other, n-hexane, is a chemical made from crude oil. It is often found mixed with solvents to use as a cleaning agent.
"A four-month investigation at 22 factories found no evidence that benzene and n-hexane endangered the roughly 500,000 people who work at the plants, according to Apple. No traces of the chemicals were detected at 18 of the factories and the amounts found at the other four factories fell within acceptable safety levels, the Cupertino, California, company said."
Apple has ordered its suppliers to stop using the two chemicals during the final stages of assembly, and is now requiring factories to test "all substances"—even those that don't list benzene or n-hexane as ingredients—to make sure they don't contain them. However, Apple is still allowing for their use during the "early production phases of its products," which doesn't take place in the 22 factories in question.
Over the past several years, Apple has faced increasing scrutiny for its labor practices, namely in China. One exhaustive report by China Labor Watch last year discovered 86 different ethical and legal labor violations. (Here's what a day in the life of an iPhone factory worker looks—or looked—like.)
It also isn't Apple's first time encountering mounting pressure to move away from potentially hazardous chemicals in the factories it contracts with. In 2009, Apple banned the use of toxic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardant (BFR) from use in its laptops.