Environment, Safety & Health
The semiconductor industry is an acknowledged global leader in promoting environmental sustainability in the design, manufacture, and use of its products, and the health and safety of its operations and impacts on workers in semiconductor facilities (fabs).
Global Climate Change
The US semiconductor industry, one of the country’s top export sectors, is responsible for less than one-tenth of one percent of US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the EPA’s most recent GHG Reporting Program data (2011). The EPA data show that out of 6.7 billion metric tons of Co2 emitted by the entire US, only 5.4 million metric tons – or 0.08 percent – is emitted by electronics manufacturers. Most of the industry’s emissions are associated with the use of fluorinated gases (F-gases) used in complex manufacturing processes, without which advanced semiconductor manufacturing is not technically feasible.
Although the industry contributes only a very small amount of GHG emissions, SIA and its members have been engaged in ongoing efforts to reduce these emissions.
• Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with EPA, SIA members voluntarily reported on their emissions of PFCs, a category of GHGs. Under this agreement, SIA members reduced their collective absolute US emissions of F-gases by more than 35% since 1995; and down 50% from their peak in 1999.
• SIA and its members have participated in the efforts of the World Semiconductor Council (WSC) to reduce emissions of PFCs. The global industry committed to a 10 percent reduction from a baseline year, and in 2011 the industry announced that it far surpassed this goal and achieved a reduction of 32 percent in absolute emissions. To build on this success, the global industry is working toward achievement of a new 10-year reduction goal.
In recognition of this effort, in 1998 the EPA granted WSC one of its first Climate Protection Awards.
Contributing to Solutions to Climate Change
Semiconductors are a foundation of modern computers, information technology, and communications products, and our products are also ubiquitous in advanced manufacturing processes, transportation systems, health care devices, building controls, energy generation equipment, and other sectors of the economy. As a result, semiconductors are a key enabling technology to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption. In short, semiconductors are a key part to addressing global climate change while also advancing economic growth.
According to a study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), the adoption of semiconductor-enabled technologies has resulted in significant energy savings throughout the economy. Moreover, the study found that if new policies accelerated adoption of these technologies by just one percentage point per year, electricity demand in 2030 could be 1.2 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) lower than the Department of Energy’s reference case, a scenario that had already assumed substantial savings from implementation of semiconductor enabled efficiency applications compared to “frozen efficiency” case that posited continued reliance on today’s technologies.
Addressing Chemicals of Concern
The process of manufacturing semiconductors in fabs relies on the highly controlled use of limited quantities of chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been identified as posing environmental or health concerns, and the industry has responded by (a) researching alternatives to these chemicals, (b) phasing out non-essential uses, and (c) identifying substitutes in even critical uses.
For example, the industry has used small amounts of Perfluorooctyl Sulfonates (PFOS) compounds, which have been critical ingredients in leading edge photoresists and antireflective coatings, materials used in the photolithographic process for imprinting circuitry on silicon wafers. When governments identified these compounds as presenting environmental or health risks, SIA and its partners in the global industry responded to address these concerns. In 2006, SIA and the WSC, in conjunction with the suppliers of semiconductor equipment, announced a plan to end non-critical uses of perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS) chemicals in semiconductor manufacturing and to work to identify substitutes for PFOS in all critical uses. The industry has succeeded in eliminating virtually all uses of PFOS at this time, and remaining uses are being phased out.
Similarly, in 1989, in response to conflicting reports about potential cleanroom hazards to reproductive health, SIA funded and implemented one of the largest epidemiological studies ever performed by private industry. The study's findings and recommendations led the industry to voluntarily agree to eliminate certain solvents that had been used in photolithography formulations.
Advancing Clean Air Regulations
SIA has been active in working with EPA to shape Clean Air Act regulations applicable to the semiconductor industry. SIA is currently working on the Mandatory Reporting Rule applicable to GHG emissions and the Tailoring Rule. In the past, the industry has been active in shaping requirements for plantwide applicability limits (PALs), Title V operating permits, and Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards.
Semiconductors are expected to rely increasingly on nanotechnology – the science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nanoscale, a range from 1 to 100 nanometers (nm). (One nanometer is a billionth of a meter) Because the properties of materials may change at the nanoscale compared with the same materials at a larger scale, the use of nanotechnology may present new or unique environment, health, and safety (EHS) concerns.
Semiconductors contain features at the nanoscale level, and nanomaterials are currently used in certain specific applications in the manufacturing process. It is important, however, to recognize the distinction between the nanoscale features contained in advanced semiconductors and the nanomaterials used in the manufacturing process.
For nearly a decade, the semiconductor industry has advanced to building products with nano-sized features. The nanoscale features are the structure and junctions of transistors on an integrated circuit that have enabled modern semiconductors to enable the advancements in technology in information technology, communications, health care, transportation, and other aspects of our economy. Nano-sized features in semiconductors are etched or otherwise modified into the layers and sections of carefully added metals, organic-metallic complexes and organics that make up a semiconductor matrix. They are bound to the device in a monolithic fashion and are not discrete engineered nanomaterials that can be separated from the device or released to the environment. These features are bound in the device itself and do not pose unique or novel health or environmental risks.
The use of nanomaterials in the semiconductor industry at this time is limited to the use of slurries containing nano-sized particles in chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) process, an important step in the manufacturing processes where aqueous slurries containing abrasive nanoparticles are used to polish or smooth a silicon wafer.
Fire and Building Codes for Semiconductor Fabs
The SIA Fire and Building Safety (FABS) Committee works closely with standards bodies and regulatory authorities to help shape the development of fire and building codes as applied to semiconductor fabrication facilities.
All of SIA's EHS committees are working to develop and incorporate environmental, safety, and health solutions early in the design of future processes, equipment, and clean rooms. Toward this end, SIA member companies are key contributors to leading research institutions focused on sustainability in the semiconductor industry, including the International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI), the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) Engineering Research Center for Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing, and the Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE). SIA also conducts annual surveys to obtain data on the environmental impacts of semiconductor manufacturing in order to enable the development of best practices.
Workplace Health and Safety
The semiconductor industry has an outstanding safety record for workers at fabs. SIA surveys its companies annually, and the incidents of injuries and illness in the semiconductor industry are well below the national average.
In addition, SIA has led efforts to study the health impacts of semiconductor manufacturing on cleanroom workers. SIA commissioned an exhaustive, five-year epidemiological study conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University that covered more than 100,000 semiconductor industry workers. The findings of the study were published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and concluded: “Work in the US semiconductor industry, including semiconductor wafer fabrication in cleanrooms, was not associated with increased cancer mortality overall or mortality from any specific form of cancer.” The study also found no evidence of increased mortality from all causes or from all cancers when comparing employees working in cleanrooms to non-fabrication workers.