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IBM Achieves First Full Phase-Out of Toxic Compounds

IBM has become the first in its industry to eliminate the use of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) compounds from its chip manufacturing processes, the company announced Monday. The two compounds are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, persist in the environment and build up in human bodies.

IBM's move was part of a larger design for environmental program that drives the company to make products that are environmentally friendly, energy efficient, reusable, recyclable and safely disposable.

It took several years for the company to eliminate all known uses of PFOS and PFOA, which are used specifically to both imprint designs and embed patterns on silicon chips.

First the company banned PFOS and PFOA use in 2005 in terms of the development of new materials. Then in 2007, IBM prohibited their use in new manufacturing applications and set an overarching goal of completely eliminating all uses by 2010.

By late 2008, the company had succeeded in phasing out PFOS and PFOA in the wet etch processes. Working with suppliers enabled IBM to eliminate the compounds in its photolithography processes by late January. {related_content}

"Developing alternatives for these chemicals was an ambitious technological challenge," Michael Cadigan, IBM's general manager of microelectronics, said in a statement. "The transition to the new formulations had to be implemented and qualified across a large array of processes without impacting customer product delivery commitments.  In addition, several companies in at least five countries have had access to this leadership solution through their technology development alliances with IBM."

Use of the compounds is allowed in semiconductor manufacturing, but several countries, including the U.S. and European Union, have moved to restrict their use as a stain or water repellant in consumer products because they are bioaccumulative and persistent. A 2007 John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study of nearly 300 umbilical cord blood samples showed that virtually all the newborns had been exposed to PFOS and PFOA.

The phase-out of PFOS and PFOA is the latest in a string of announcements from IBM as it pursues smarter, greener products and a smaller operational environmental footprint. For example, the company, which was today ranked fourth on Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s Best Corporate Citizens list, unveiled a partnership last week with Johnson Controls that will focus on broad scale building systems management technologies. It also released last month next generation systems designed to tackle the huge influx of data produced by a range of smart grid applications.

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