Toxic Center of the Universe: Silicon Valley

The center of Silicon Valley, 1983 (Alexis Madrigal)

The center of Silicon Valley, 1983 (Alexis Madrigal)

My math says it’s located in Sunnyvale, south of 101 between North Wolfe Road and the Lawrence Expressway at precisely 37.38260152 degrees north, 122.0094996784 degrees west.

As I walked back across the street, I found a big guy walking towards me. “Well, you got our curiosity piqued,” he said, pointing to my camera. He had a soul patch and wore an checked Oxford monogrammed with the name of the self-storage place. All-in, he looked like Ted Danson, if Danson lifted weights. This was Geoffrey Taylor, manager of the facility.

I explained myself to him, trying not to sound completely ridiculous. “And so, I calculated that, in 1983, this was the center of Silicon Valley, and I came down here to see it –”

“And you ended up at a Superfund site,” he said. —Alexis C. Madrigal, Not Even Silicon Valley Escapes History

Remember New York Times’ 2012 iEconomy series about Apple & Chinese workers? Here’s another perspective, and it’s called Superfund. AKA, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) — created in response to Love Canal.

One of the most powerful of several interactive graphics in Toxic Trail: How a landmark cleanup program leaves its own toxic legacy:

Toxic Trail: How a landmark cleanup program leaves its own toxic legacy

CIR [Center for Investigative Reporting] constructed a composite picture of the trail’s environmental toll by piecing together hazardous waste shipping documents, company records, environmental violations and scientific studies. It’s a first-of-its kind accounting of the hidden impacts of a widely lauded cleanup effort, and it highlights the challenges facing the nation’s Superfund program.

It’s difficult for me to imagine, reading Toxic Trail, that an army of geeks and coders in illegally stopping, wifi-enabled buses impact the world as much as this. Heck, none of us impact the world like this. Moore’s Law has its environmental twin: exponential growth of toxic waste exposure for at-risk (low income, minority) communities. Toxic exposure from digital tech is more likely than crossing — the increasingly abyssic — digital divide.

Clean industry is how the High-Tech industry promoted itself in the 1970s. The Poisoned Neighborhood is part of 2001 El Andar magazine series on toxic hazards and minorities in Silicon Valley:

Silicon Valley is among the most toxic regions in America. Santa Clara County alone houses 23 Superfund sites [currently 29] – sites the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared the highest priority for environmental clean-up because of their health hazards. No other county in the nation has more of these sites. On the Environmental Defense Scorecard, Santa Clara County ranks in the top 10 percent most polluted counties in the United States. (&myemp;)

“The high tech industry and the Santa Clara public health and air quality officials have known from day one – certainly from 1950 – that this industry pollutes the environment and the human body,” [David] Pellow said. “So all of this stuff about clean industry was a concoction. It was deliberate and it was not founded on ignorance of new chemicals. The public may be finding this out now but health officials in the industry have known for a half-century at the very minimum.”

Superfunds located in Santa Clara County include Advanced Micro Devices, Fairchild Semiconductor, GTE, Intel, Moffett Field, Raytheon, Synertek [full list]. Among others, Apple II, Apple II+, Apple IIe, Apple III used Synertek‘s SY6502 Microprocessor.

Nanotechnology, btw, is also being advertised as “very clean”, but “could potentially trigger similar environmental damage”.

NPL Superfund Footprint Mapper

NPL Superfund Footprint Mapper

In Your Own Backyard: Mapping Communities Near Superfund Sites
Ecopopulism, Andrew Szasz
List of Superfund sites in California
Superfund: The woman who started it all hits Portland
Google Books: “clean industry” silicon valley.


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