Silicon Valley: Innovator of Toxic Pollution and Deadly Contamination?

Cutting edge. Innovative. Entrepreneurial. Impressive. These are words that describe Silicon Valley, the region in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California that is home to tech powerhouses such as Apple, Google and Facebook. Certainly, words like cancer, birth defects and deadly contamination do not come to mind.

From Superconductors to Superfund Sites

Known officially as Santa Clara County, the Silicon Valley area has been a major industrial center since the 1950s through the dawn of the age of Apple. The region originally produced semiconductors and microprocessors in factories throughout the county into the 1980s. That’s when many companies moved their factories to Asia and dumped the toxic chemicals being used in the manufacturing process into the California land before heading east.

But today, a who’s who of companies that helped spawn the tech and internet revolution actually sit on the contaminated land that since 1989 has been declared a Superfund site. This is a designation the Environmental Protection Agency gives to highly contaminated areas in need of cleanup due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or improperly discarded. The EPA says Superfund areas across the country include former and current manufacturing facilities, processing plants, landfills and mining sites.

Workers and Residents Exposed 

Santa Clara County has 23 active Superfund sites, more than any other in the United States. The EPA first became aware of the contamination in the early 1980s after groundwater testing revealed that toxic chemicals—most notably trichloroethylene—were present.

Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is a nonflammable, colorless liquid with a sweet odor that is used mainly as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts. It is also found in adhesives, paint removers and stain removers, and was once used to clean semiconductors during the production process. Exposure has been linked to increased risk of certain cancers, developmental disabilities in children, increased rates of miscarriage and endocrine disruption.

After the groundwater discovery, companies accused of polluting the groundwater with leaking tanks, including Fairchild and IBM, denied that the chemicals posed any threat to human health. But in 1985, a California Department of Health Services study reported a significantly higher-than-expected rate of miscarriage and birth defects near the leaking tanks. According to The Atlantic, over the past three decades, the EPA and companies involved in polluting Silicon Valley’s groundwater filtered and cleaned some of it, but the agency’s website acknowledges that the cleanup will continue for many decades. In fact, completely cleaning up these chemicals may be impossible. That’s because toxic molecules have spread throughout the area.

The EPA claims that there is no direct exposure to the contaminated groundwater anymore. However,  the problem now is that the toxins can get from the groundwater into the air in buildings via a process called vapor intrusion. The underground contamination from leaking tanks has moved beyond the Superfund sites, and toxic vapors have become a nightmare realized for some Silicon Valley workers. At Google, toxic vapors flowed into two campus buildings in late 2012 and possibly exposed office workers there to chemical levels above the EPA’s legal limit.

How TCE Exposure Affects a Developing Baby

Exposure to TCE can cause the deadly toxin to enter the bloodstream. This is particularly alarming for pregnant women since TCE can cross the placenta and enter the developing baby. A pregnant woman’s exposure to TCE during the first two to eight weeks of pregnancy, when the baby’s heart is developing, can increase the chance of having a baby born with a birth defect of the heart, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry. Technology, electronics and semiconductor manufacturing companies in the Silicon Valley region can be to blame for birth defects for failing to keep workers protected from the dangers of TCE exposure on the job.

How We Help Victims of Toxic Exposure

The attorneys of our birth defects victims alliance understand the pain that families face when coping with life-altering birth defects—and the frustration of knowing they could have been prevented. Our team has over 30 years of combined experience in birth defects litigation in cases involving toxic exposure. We have the resources and experience to fight on behalf of our clients against corporations that put them in danger. Call us to see how we can help you and your family receive justice for birth defects.