Semiconductor industry to study cancer links

A epidemiologic study of former semiconductor industry workers will go forward after a team of doctors at Johns Hopkins University determined there was enough data to proceed, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said Thursday in a release.

SIA critics have been calling for such a study for years. Despite anecdotal evidence of cancer and other health issues among former semiconductor industry workers, highlighted by recent lawsuits against IBM Corp., the industry had been reluctant to provide the historical data necessary to conduct such a study.

A 2001 committee organized by the SIA determined that "there is no affirmative evidence of increased risk of cancer among U.S. semiconductor factory workers," according the SIA's Web site. However, in the same report, the committee said "insufficient data exists at the present time to conclude whether exposure to chemicals or other hazardous materials has or has not increased such a risk of cancer."

The Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins team was asked to review industry data to determine if a scientific study could be conducted. After an 11-month investigation reviewing employee and workplace records, the team concluded there is sufficient data, said Genevieve Matanoski, principal investigator with the team, in a press release.

The SIA now plans to go forward with a retrospective epidemiological study examining cancer rates of wafer fabrication workers versus nonfabrication workers, and will post updates and the study's results on its Web site. (http://www.semichips.org)

Organizations such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and International Center for Occupational Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco have tried to conduct their own cancer studies, but have been rebuffed in their attempts to gather the necessary worker data.

"We've been deprived of any research opportunities for the past eight years. There have been no cancer studies related to the entire electronics industry, because the companies were unwilling or unable to provide the data," said Joe LaDou, director of the International Center for Occupational Medicine, in an interview last year.

A California jury decided in February that working conditions at an IBM plant were not responsible for causing cancer in two former employees and that IBM did not withhold information from those employees regarding their workplace's safety.

Similar cases against IBM with a less stringent burden of proof have been settled in New York. One settlement was reached earlier this month in a case involving birth defects suffered by a child of a former IBM employee who worked with chemicals while pregnant. Terms of that settlement were not released.

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