Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How Foxconn Will Pollute Wisconsin

And why the company may get away with it.

By - Apr 3rd, 2018 12:15 pm
Foxconn chairman Terry Gou and Governor Scott Walker signing a memorandum of understanding. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Foxconn chairman Terry Gou and Governor Scott Walker signing a memorandum of understanding. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

From the beginning, it was clear that Gov. Scott Walker was wooing an international polluter to locate a major manufacturing plant here.

The Taiwanese company Foxconn’s record in China was abysmal. At its plant in Chengdu, China, which made iPads for Apple, audits by Apple found improper disposal of hazardous waste and workers injured by toxic chemical exposures, as the New York Times reported. The conditions were so horrific that at least 18 Foxconn workers “attempted suicide or fell from buildings in manners that suggested suicide attempts.”

Some workers at the factory operated polishing machines that produce clouds of microscopic aluminum dust 12 hours a day. “I’m breathing aluminum dust at Foxconn like a vacuum cleaner,” said one worker. The dust caused explosions that killed and injured workers.

At a Chinese factory run by Wintek, a Foxconn subcontractor, 137 workers were seriously injured by n-hexane, a toxic chemical that can cause nerve damage and paralysis and which was used in making the signature glass screens of the iPhone, another Times story reported.

Environmental groups accused Foxconn of dumping heavy metals into two rivers which flow into the Yangtze and Huangpu rivers, and which supply Shanghai with drinking water, but Foxconn denied the charges.

The LCD screens being made by Foxconn require such metals as mercury, cadmium, chromium, zinc and copper, as Peter Adriaens, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, told the Associated Press. “We know that outside manufacturing plants of Foxconn, rivers are very polluted,” he said. Less stringent oversight in China makes it difficult to know for certain if Foxconn is responsible, but, he added: “The correlation is very strong.”

In Wisconsin, the contract Walker and Republicans awarded Foxconn exempted it from the usual environmental rules, allowing it to discharge materials into wetlands and reroute streams during construction and operation. And Act 56, the law providing the massive funding for Foxconn, also exempted the company from doing an Environmental Impact Statement. As a result, “there is no holistic evaluation of the combined impacts on the air and water,” Paul Mathewson, Staff Scientist with the non-profit Clean Wisconsin, tells Urban Milwaukee. “For example, there are all these road projects going on to accommodate all this extra traffic associated with the project, but we have not seen any evaluation of these emissions (from this) combined with the emissions from the facility itself.”

Documents filed with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources by Foxconn show the plant will cause significant air pollution. “Records show Foxconn will emit hundreds of tons of carbon monoxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide, various hazardous air pollutants, as well as VOCs and NOx, each year,” as Lee Bergquist of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The plant will emit enough VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and and NOx (nitrogen oxides) to make it one of the worst such polluters in southeastern Wisconsin, behind only the coal-fired power plants in Oak Creek, Pleasant Prairie and Sheboygan. And it would have the highest emissions of VOCs, the story noted.

The federal EPA has already determined that Racine County exceeds tougher ozone requirements established under the Obama administration, but Gov. Walker has asked the Trump administration to set aside these limits. If Walker succeeds, this will be yet another exception for Foxconn, allowing it to violate previously accepted environmental standards.

The result will be more ozone, which causes, contributes to, or exacerbates a number of respiratory problems including asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. That has huge health consequences. “In 2011, a peer-reviewed EPA study found that reductions in smog and fine particle pollution prevented more than 160,000 early deaths, 130,000 heart attacks and millions of asthma cases nationwide during 2010 alone,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Louis Woo, a spokesperson for Foxconn, did an Op Ed for the Journal Sentinel promising the company “is fully committed to complying with all laws and regulations that apply to our operations.” But he included a built-in rationale for not restricting Foxconn, noting that “Racine County ozone is overwhelmingly the result of air pollution transported from upwind states.”

With that approach, no federal pollution controls would be possible, since all air pollution travels across states.

There are also questions about the amount of water pollution Foxconn will cause. The manufacturing of LCD screens requires huge amounts of water, and the company has sought state permission “to tap as much as 7 million gallons a day from Lake Michigan…just slightly less than the daily amount of lake water Milwaukee will ship to the City of Waukesha,” as Bergquist reported. Of that total 39 percent would be lost, mostly through evaporation, and 4.3 million gallons would be returned to the lake via the City of Racine’s water system.

Here too the company is getting a special deal. Under the rules of the Great Lakes Compact, it would be difficult to divert so much lake water to a private company, as Jodi Habush Sinykin, a Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney, explained to the Wisconsin State Journal. “Consequently, under the law it would be subject to much greater scrutiny, higher conservation standards and a longer review,” the story noted. But with the City of Racine applying for the diversion and then providing the water to Foxconn, “those obstacles disappear.”

“There’s an argument that this is not public infrastructure,” Jim Olson, an environmental lawyer in Michigan, argued in a “Stateline” story by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Olson believes the deal could open the door to similar projects that will slowly drain the Great Lakes basin. “If you interpret the exceptions to the diversion ban too broadly, you have to treat anyone else that comes along in a somewhat equal manner,” he warned.

As to the water pollution created, making LCDs requires heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, zinc and copper, Adriaens noted, and will “generate liquid waste streams.”

Foxconn has yet to submit any information to the state Department of Revenue to explain how it will handle water clean up. The key question, says Mathewson, “is whether they will be able to treat the wastewater well enough that the Racine Water Utility can properly clean it before discharging it into the lake. Wastewater Utilities are not equipped to treat specialized industrial wastewater streams.”

And even should Foxconn’s application show it intends to properly clean the huge volume of polluted water it will generate, there is reason to doubt the state DNR will monitor this and enforce the law. A 2016 Legislative Audit Bureau report found the DNR did not enforce its own water quality standards 94 percent of the time.

And given that the Walker administration is a huge investor in the Foxconn plant, giving it more than $4 billion in state and local tax support, its message to the DNR — which has lost most of its scientific staff and any civil service protections — is likely be crystal clear: go easy on the company.

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27 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: How Foxconn Will Pollute Wisconsin”

  1. PMD says:

    I for one am excited for the inevitable dismissals from WCD and WashCoRepub. They will take the form of: but jobs; this is just an anti-Walker hit piece; and come on it’s not going to be that bad this is just propaganda from environmental extremists. Because obviously only eco-terrorists care about crap like water quality and air quality and people getting seriously ill or dying from sicknesses directly related to air pollution and water pollution. We should let anyone do whatever they want to our air and water as long as they are able to say “Hey forget about that and look over here: jobs!”

  2. Old Man Yells at Cloud says:

    PMD, you can lump in the misguided ‘Sportsmen for Walker’ crowd as well. Let’s gut the DNR, sell public land, open up some pit mines etc… But hey, he’s a ‘conservative’ which means he likes guns so he is our guy!

  3. A Prire says:

    Just the beginning of years of rhetoric and rants.
    However, disappointment will come.

    Walkers involvement? His disappointment has already proven itself.

  4. Terry says:

    Oh joy! Career Politician and professional Big Government moocher Scott Walker handed over 4.5 Billion of our tax dollars to a foreign company, while defunding schools andetting the roads and infrastructure in the state collapse and all we get is some government subsidised Chinese slave wage “jobs” and all our air and water polluted with n-hexane, mercury, cadmium, chromium, zinc and copper! Thanks for NOTHING Walker! Thanks for NOTHING republicans!

    Dump Walker 2018! Then…

    Legalize, tax and regulate cannabis and create 18,000 new decent paying homegrown jobs in Wisconsin, for Wisconsinites, and use the tax revenue (currently squandered on the black market) to FIX THE ROADS AND FUND THE SCHOOLS!! All without WASTING 4.5 BILLION of our money on corporate welfare for FoxCON or polluting our precious natural resources.

  5. I would think that with all of the water businesses cropping up in Milwaukee, that one or more of them could develop a system that Foxconn would be required to implement, that could clean the water for reuse in the plant and the only daily water they would need post start up is replacement for water lost to evaporation.

  6. Mike says:

    Bruce, is it safe to assume that you do not own a big screen TV or a cell phone with an LCD screen? Or are you just a hypocrite?

  7. PMD says:

    If you own a cell phone you are a hypocrite for saying you care about air and water pollution?

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Only thing polluting Wisconsin is the BS being passed out but Bruce and the Left that stops and chases jobs from Wisconsin, so we see welfare, food stamps go up and jobs go down, crime goes up, bad roads, human trafficking, drugs drug shootings, unemployment, heroin epidemic of overdose deaths and then pushing Pot.
    That is what is polluting wis.

  9. Eric J. says:

    We will still have OSHA for acceptable workplace conditions & exposures. The WI. DNR and EPA —Not so much .
    -Just as WeEnergies is cleaning up the coal fired locations here comes Foxconn.

  10. Mike says:

    @PMD if you believe the products that Foxconn makes pollute and destroy this world. You should stop using them and live like a caveman. If fossil fuels are destroying the planet I would hope you don’t drive a car or heat your home. Or all you are is a hypocrite who likes to lecture others while you continue to use these products everyday.

  11. Tom says:

    Enjoy your toxic air and water on top of the BILLIONS you’ll be paying the Chinese Wisconsin! Too funny if it weren’t so horrifying. @Mike, duh, you can have clean air and water and a tv, smart phone, duh…@WCD, the major problem with your stupid comment is that WALKER AND REPUBLICANS have been in complete and total control for many, many years, thus all your issues are in fact THEIR FAULT! God republicans are stupid. Sorry Wisconsin but Asshead Walker and Trump FoxCONNED you all, SUCKERS!

  12. Terry says:

    Ed, that would be far too logical and it would benefit a Wisconsin company while adding “messy, unnecessary regulations” to FoxCON thus Walker and republicans, I mean their corporate masters that bought them, would never go for it.

    Dump Walker
    Dump FoxCON
    Save Wisconsin!

  13. PMD says:

    So it is impossible to care about the environment and drive a car? If you drive a car, you have to wholeheartedly love fossil fuels and not want cleaner energy or you are a hypocrite? You can’t have a cell phone and also advocate for water quality? That is reductive rubbish. That’s the thinking of a five-year-old incapable of complex thought.

  14. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    WCD is another waste of oxygen worth less human being.

    Pollution is what less regulation brings. I say let’s find mikes and WCDs homes and dump in their yards, pur poop in their water, and disease and infect the game they hunt, fish they eat, and plants the grow to eat.

    Do you know why people are limited in the fish they can eat from lake Michigan?

    My guess WCD and Mike are too stupid to even find out.

  15. Eric J. says:

    WCD :
    -Bad Roads ?: Walker position on taxes.
    -Opioid Deaths ?? : Lots of them in Waukesha Co. ( Oconomowoc-Kleefisch country) also .
    Fortunately Bruce Murphy has an outlet for publishing these stories.

    -Pointless to argue with a troll.

  16. Terry says:

    Add Mike to the list of idiots that don’t understand that one needn’t be a luddite to understand that sensible rules/laws around potentially destructive or toxic pollutants are not only good but necessary in a free society. Even Libertarians understand this! Here’s how it works Mike. You are free to sh#t in your own well and drink it all you want Mike. You just can’t sh#t in everyone elses’ well! Tu pige putain?

  17. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    When WMC-owned judges and other right-wing hacks say they will “uphold rule of law”, they mean they won’t lift a finger to make Foxconn pay anything to mitigate the damage they will cause.

    Know this, and vote wisely today.

  18. Joe says:

    Mike’s never heard of the tu quoque fallacy. Too busy defending Republicans to study valid argument or realize they serve him no benefit whatsoever.

  19. Mike says:

    WI is giving back fraction of what foxconn generates of 15 years based on specific targets that have to be met. Meanwhile IL just raised their income tax $5 billion per year not over 15 years and that is going straight to corrupt union pensions. Where would you rather be right now. The bottom line is if you have a problem with the safe amount of things that Foxconn will produce. Stop using those products. is this so called pollution ok just because it is happening somewhere else. That is why you are all a bunch of hypocrites. You have no problem complaining about someone else’s chance to get ahead by getting a good job and utilizing things that advance are soceity. If you really cared if you really thought it was destroying the planet you wouldn’t have a TV. You wouldn’t drive or fly. But you hypocrites do all those things. No one is interested in the bs that you are all spewing.

  20. Timothy J Haering says:

    Humanity IS pollution. Deep Tunnel! “Doctor, my eyes, Tell me what is wrong, Was I unwise to leave them open for so long” This is the price for all the babies you want. Even Proxmire couldn;t stand in the way of Progress. Modern love. Walks beside me. Modern love. Walks on by. God and man. I don’t believe in modern love. Vonnegut’s next novel is in here, if only he had lived to write it. How would he conceive of JOhn Galt? Billy PIlgrim. Poo-tee-weet! Soylent Green is PEOPLE! It’s too late, baby, now, it’s too late. Buy you a Spotted Cow and a Usingers at the 19th HOle.

  21. Terry says:

    Based on Dallet’s amazing win it sure looks like the majority of Wisconsinite’s care about “this bs.” But hey, it’s Mike against everyone. It’s Mike against the world! Mike against reality itself! My money is on the world. My money is on reality itself…

    Dump Walker 2018

  22. PMD says:

    The problem with ignorant, simple-minded folks like Mike:

    “Ever heard the argument that climate protesters are hypocrites because they drive cars, use petroleum products and otherwise don’t practice what they preach? It’s a PR line designed to shut down criticism without addressing its substance, and, what’s worse, it’s a logical fallacy.”


    “To say it is hypocritical to divest while still using fossil fuels is equivalent to telling parents they must remove their children from class while advocating for better schools,” wrote Jamie Henn of

  23. Eric J. says:

    Wonder if T.J. Haering was eating exotic mushrooms late last night ?? ( Timothy Leary would be proud )

  24. old baldy says:

    “Only thing polluting Wisconsin is the BS being passed out but Bruce and the Left”

    Factually inaccurate. Just check the groundwater in Kewaunee or LaCrosse County for starters.

  25. Jacob Pickard says:

    Old Baldy – Absoluly correct. A perfect example of Republicans crapping in people’s drinking water for campaign dollars.

    I say we find Mikes house and dump millions of gallons of cow poop in his areas aquifer.

    Mike, are you game for that? Jobs?

    You can always buy bulk drinking water at Save O Lot.

  26. Concerned WI says:

    FOXCONN is coming for the Great Lakes Water and WI natural resources, Not to make WI better for anyone!
    Look where Foxconn comes from, the environment is very polluted.

    Walker thinks he can give the water to FOXCONN? It is not his and it is not Wisconsin’s. It belongs to the Earth and is needed to sustain life here.

    Things will be revealed soon that will stop this circus in its tracks. Why do you think Ryan has backed away?

  27. Terry says:

    Dump FoxCON
    Dump Walker
    Save the Great Lakes!

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