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Union blasts chip industry's 'cancer risk denial'

Semiconductor bosses say no need for UK-wide study

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The UK’s largest trade union has slammed the semiconductor industry after it told the British government that a national study to look into the effects of work-related cancer in the chip biz was unnecessary.

Unite said today that it was perplexed by senior bosses at chip firms who insist that there was “no clear evidence” that show people working in their plants were dangerously exposed to health risks.

According to the union, the semiconductor industry said it “does not accept there is a need to conduct an industry-wide study".

Health and Safety Minister Lord McKenzie had written to key execs in the semiconductor industry to raise some of the concerns expressed by Unite.

The union has been pushing for industry-wide research into cancer risks in the computer and semiconductor manufacturing industry since the publication of the HSE/DTI Feasibility study in 2005.

Unite national officer Peter Skyte said in a statement: "This is in our view an Alice in Wonderland approach. It is precisely because there is no clear evidence that we, the government and the HSE see the need for a national study.

“If there were compelling evidence of an increased risk of occupational cancer, there would not be a need for the study.”

In October 2006 a study of workers at computer plants in the US highlighted an “elevated” chance of contracting and dying of cancer.

Research conducted by 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. The data Clapp used was produced during a US lawsuit in which IBM was sued by former plant workers.

Last November AMD was hit by a birth defects lawsuit from an ex-employee who worked at one of the firm's fab plants. She claimed that exposure to hazardous chemicals during pregnancy had caused multiple birth defects in her son.

At the time AMD responded to the accusation by saying: "We take the health and safety of our employees very seriously. We have a long history of supporting independent research on health and safety in semiconductor manufacturing and are confident in our systems and procedures."

We requested comment from AMD and Intel, but neither was immediately available at time of writing. ®

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