Tag Archives: Apple

Rare Earths – And Why the iPad is Made in China

Have you wondered what the iPad is made out of?  Beneath the sleek streamlined device, apart from the aluminium and glass, there are several reasons why the iPad has to be made in China. These include:

  • cheap labor – minimum wage in China is about a tenth that of the US
  • lax environmental regulations – when you consider that producing a  1.44-pound iPad results in over 285 times its own weight in greenhouse gas emissions, its no wonder China lies 116th of 132 countries in Yale’s Environmental Performance Index rankings.
  • the need for significant amounts of rare earth elements.

Oxides of rare earth elements. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.

So what are rare earths? The term is a misnomer as they are not rare and they are not a kind of dirt. Rare because they are found widely dispersed on this planet but not in sufficient amounts at any one place. They comprise of 17 minerals found in the periodic table of elements that are important in the manufacture of a wide range of high-technology products, including flat-screens, smartphones and the iPad.

The crunch is that China virtually produces commercially almost all the  rare earth supply on this planet. Although Apple have not officially confirmed what kind of rare earths are used, many believe, for instance, that here may be lanthanum in the iPad’s lithium-ion polymer battery, as well as “a range of rare earths to produce the different colours” in the display. The magnets along the side of the iPad and in its cover are possibly a neodymium alloy.

The reason many countries, including the US and Australia, have not embarked on rare earth refining is largely environmental and anti-green, where toxic by-products are released into the environment, including hazardous radioactive substances which can pose a danger to health for surrounding residents, if inadequate safety measures are not in place.

A case in point is the Lynas refinery plant, the world’s largest, in Kuantan, Malaysia. Here, rare earth is imported by ship from Fremantle, Australia for refining and then re-exported to Australia. Permanent disposal of the roughly 20,000 tons a year of low-level radioactive waste that will be produced has been a big issue although the International Atomic Energy Commission has reportedly approved the safety of the plant. The progress toward opening the plant has been hampered by street demonstrations over radiation concerns, regulatory challenges and the withdrawal of a major equipment supplier worried about the safety of the refinery.

Environmental and health safety concerns have sparked street demos at the Lynas plant in Kuantan, Malaysia

Meanwhile, the price of rare earths has multiplied 30x in 2011, although it has since softened, largely because of the impending Lynas plant, which can meet 20% of the world’s needs.

Additional Reading

Rare Earths – the New York Times

Rare Earth Plant in Malaysia Ready To Go – Yahoo.



Steve Jobs – What the Death Certificate Showed

Tributes lie on the pavement outside Steve Jobs home in Palo Alto, California


According to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in San Jose, California which issued the death certificate, the immediate cause of death of the Apple CEO was listed as respiratory arrest with the underlying cause “metastatic pancreas neuroendocrine tumor”.

This puts to rest the speculations that arose when Apple Inc announced his demise without specifying any details. Other facts which emerged, according to Bloomberg:

-he passed away at home, 3pm on October 5.

-no autopsy was performed.

– he was buried at a non-denominational cemetery in Santa Clara County on Oct. 7.

The conclusions that can be drawn from the death certificate implies that the neuroendocrine cancer of the pancreas (the rarer form of cancer of the pancreas) presumably spread to the rest of the body (stage 4) despite the liver transplant in 2009 to remove cancer cells in the liver. This is much in keeping with the seriousness and malignant nature of this type of cancer, where the survival rates are less than 4% after 5 years (less than 4% of sufferers live beyond 5 years).

The Reason Steve Jobs Died

For such a visionary man who had a profound influence on the IT landscape, Apple’s announcement of his demise was strangely devoid of the cause of death. Maybe because Steve Jobs was an intensely private person, but it is a known fact that he had been suffering from a type of pancreatic cancer since 2004.


There are two types of cancer of the pancreas : the commoner (95%) exocrine type aka adenocarcinoma and the rarer (5%) neuro-endocrine type aka Islet cell carcinoma. The latter  form was what afflicted Steve Jobs, according to several sources. Although rarer, this form of tumor is slow-growing and can produce various hormones (“functional tumors”), af act which was acknowledged by Steve Jobs in explaining his profound loss of weight.

A gaunt Steve Jobs, as the illness took hold

Patrick Swayze- another victim of pancreatic cancer


Nevertheless, cancer of the pancreas, apart from being difficult to diagnose in the early stages, is notorious for carrying a bad prognosis.. only 4% of people suffering from it can expect to live beyond 5 years. So how did Steve Jobs  manage to go on for 7 years?

Standard treatments for pancreatic cancer include the 3 common tumor-fighting strategies — surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and, most recently, targeted anticancer drugs.

Firstly, it was reported that he underwent pancreatectomy (an operation to remove the tumor) when it was first diagnosed in 2004. It is not known whether he underwent chemotherapy or radiation but, subsequently, in 2009, he had a liver transplant which probably meant that the cancer had spread to the liver. Although liver transplants are not the usual way of treating such spread of cancer, it is believed that it can be a form of cure for neuro-endocrine tumors such as the one Jobs had.

In any case, with a transplant, the use of immuno-suppressive drugs became mandatory. These drugs work by preventing the body from rejecting the transplant (which came from a human donor) but carry severe side-effects, like suppressing the body’s own immunity. Sometimes, these drugs can themselves cause fatal effects.

Because of the poor outlook, many sufferers tend to try alternative treatment startegies. Some include the Gonzalez regimen (using enzymes and vitamin supplement), radiation-based hormone therapy and herbal therapy but it is unclear whether he had resorted to alternative therapy.

Despite the best available medical care, the fact that he finally succumbed to the illness goes to show that cancer of the pancreas remains notoriously difficult to treat and still carries with it a rather grim prognosis.


%d bloggers like this: