May 1 1990

Holes in Ozone Coverage

With the amount of lip service paid to environmental threats, one would have expected the media to leap at an expose dealing with ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)–like Dennis Hayes’ article in Mother Jones (12/89), which showed that Silicon Valley electronics firms began using CFCs to clean circuit boards and microchips after the 1976 ban on CFCs in aerosol cans, negating the impact of the aerosol ban.

But when Mother Jones distributed advance copies of the story to the media, it got a cold shoulder. The electronics industry’s use of CFCs wasn’t important news.

But when the industry, responding to Earth Day hoopla, held press conferences to announce they were cutting back on CFC use, then it was news. “In an effort to prevent further depletion of the earth’s ozone,” the New York Times reported (4/18/90), “the Digital Equipment Corporation has developed a system for cleaning sophisticated electrical equipment that eliminates the use of chlorofluorocarbons.” The Times and other papers ignored Mother Jones‘ findings that the “new” systems are nothing more than recycled versions of those used before the introduction of CFCs.

“IBM plant in San Jose cleans up emissions,” the San Francisco Chronicle headlined another story, which was so impressed by IBM’s actions that it rewrote history: “The dangers of chlorofluorocarbons were not as well understood 10 years ago when IBM and the rest of the American electronics industry adopted them as solvents,” the report said.

The media’s standard seemed to be: It’s not news unless it’s good news–for business.