Between mid-November and mid-January, after workers disabled part of the air ventilation system at an office complex in Mountain View, Calif., levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) in two Google office buildings exceeded concentrations deemed safe by the EPA, according to a report by the federal agency, obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
TCE is carcinogenic to humans and can harm the central nervous system, kidneys, the liver, the male reproductive system, the immune system, and can cause abnormalities in developing fetuses, according to the EPA’s human health assessment on the solvent used in making computer chips.
A Google spokesperson says more than 1,000 employees work in the buildings where the elevated levels of TCE was found. Google would not say how many employees were directly exposed to the hazardous chemical, adding that the unsafe levels were limited to specific parts of the offices and no employees were in danger. “The health and safety of our employees is Google’s number one priority,” the company says.
The spokesperson would not give specifics but said since Google moved into the satellite campus last summer, the company has tested the buildings’ indoor air quality and taken steps to improve it, as well as updating employees about air quality via the company’s intranet and town-hall style meetings.
Google does not manufacture chips with TCE. The Center for Investigative Reporting says when computer chip manufacturers such as Intel, Fairchild Semiconductor and Raytheon occupied the site in the 1960s and ’70s, large quantities of contaminants leaked or were dumped. TCE was discovered in the soil and groundwater under the three companies’ plants in 1981.
Since 1989, more than 100,000 pounds of contaminants have been removed from the groundwater.