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Computer factory workers show 'elevated' risk of cancer

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A study of workers at computer plants in the US has shown an “elevated” chance of contracting and dying of cancer.

A study conducted by a US academic, Richard Clapp, and published in Environmental Health, covered 31,941 individuals who died between 1969 and 2001, and who had spent five years or more working in computer or semiconductor manufacturing plants.

The study found death rates for all cancers were elevated in both males and females who had worked in computer plants. At the same time, there were reduced deaths due to non-malignant respiratory disease in males and females, and of heart disease in females. (Are any computer plants not non-smoking?)

More specifically, the study found higher rates of: brain and central nervous system cancer, while kidney cancer, melanoma of skin and pancreatic cancer were significantly elevated in male manufacturing workers. Kidney cancer and cancer of lymphatic and hematopoietic tissue were significantly elevated in female workers.

The figures were enough for Clapp to conclude that mortality was elevated due to specific cancers, and amongst workers more likely to be exposed to solvents and other chemical exposures in manufacturing. However, there wasn’t sufficient information to pointy the finger at any particular agents.

There’s no doubt that computer and semiconductor manufacturing involves some nasty substances and processes, including arsenic, nickel and chromium, not to mention electromagnetic fields.

Earlier studies had suggested that computer plant workers had suggested higher cancer rates.

The data Clapp used was produced during a lawsuit in which IBM was sued by former plant workers. In the report, Clapp, an epidemiologist at Boston University School of Public Health, was “paid a consultancy by the plaintiff’s law firm” but that the law firm did not design the study or review or approve the report. Clapp was not paid for preparing the report in the journal.

The full report is here

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