Googlers Exposed to Toxic Vapors for Several Months, Thanks to Silicon Valley's Dirty Past

The situation has been remedied since and nobody is in danger

By on February 23rd, 2013 18:41 GMT

Google may be working on new buildings, to house some of its employees, but in the meantime, it has to keep them at its current Googleplex headquarters. And it turns out, for all of Google's emphasis on green buildings and a clean work environment, the company has been unknowingly poisoning some of its employees.

Traces of trichloroethylene (TCE) have been detected at a couple of buildings at its Googleplex headquarters.

TCE is toxic and can cause severe problems after prolonged exposure. Safe levels are considered five micrograms per cubic meter. 

Some of the air sampling stations Google has installed in the buildings started reporting levels above 5 mg/m3 to about 30 mg/m3 sometime last year. One station saw levels of 120 mg/m3.

Google took steps to fix the problem and resolved it in a few weeks. Employees had minimal exposure in that time, for example by changing work patterns to spend as little time as possible in the buildings. TCE is only problematic after decades of exposure.

The source of the TCE is the interesting part though, Google has to thank Silicon Valley's glorious past for the surprise.

While the region is home to companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and everything in between, companies that work with bits rather than silicon.

However, Silicon Valley was built by companies like Fairchild Semiconductor and then, later, other chipmakers, hence the name.

Google's headquarters are situated at the very spot that Fairchild Semiconductor and later Intel, Raytheon and other chipmakers operated.

And all of them, allegedly, dumped thousands of gallons or liters of TCE, which was used as a solvent, straight into the ground, contaminating the water supply and causing problems for companies like Google later on.

It's because of the contamination that Google installed the state-of-the-art air filters and detectors on all of its buildings at the Googleplex, a good idea as it turns out.

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