Zachary Ruffing was born almost blind. The bones in his head and shoulders are deformed and he has difficulty using his mouth, but according to his lawyer, Amanda Hawes, he's bright. "He wants to be an astronomer," she says.
Thirteen-year-old Zachary and his parents are trying to pin the blame on one of the world's most powerful corporations. When he was conceived and born in 1985 both his parents worked at an IBM semiconductor plant in East Fishkill, New York, where they claim they were exposed to a variety of solvents and other toxic chemicals. Along with 140 other workers and children, they are now suing Big Blue for compensation. Their case, the first of its kind, will come to court this October.
Across the Atlantic in Scotland, Grace Morrison, aged 57, blames another American company, National Semiconductor, for the cancers that killed her sister and her friend-and nearly killed her. She is leading a group of 70 women who say they were exposed to chemicals at the company's plant in Greenock. The women are launching a legal battle in Scotland for compensation. "The manufacture of semiconductors is a dirty, dangerous business," Morrison says.
Both IBM and National Semiconductor deny responsibility for birth defects and cancers amongst workers and their children-and it will be hard to prove them wrong. But there is mounting evidence that women in the chip-making industry do suffer an increased risk of spontaneous abortion and that exposure to solvents may cause congenital deformities.
The increasing use of computers over the past few decades has fuelled an
explosive growth in the microelectronics industry. From its origins in
California's Silicon Valley, it has spread throughout Europe and Asia, and now
employs more than a million people worldwide. There are 900 chip-making plants
and a further 100 planned, supplying a worldwide market worth more than $150
billion a year. "Because of its growth a
Contact: Claire Bowles