Computer-Chip Plants Aren't as Safe and Clean As Billed, Some Say.
The Wall Street Journal, October 5, 1998, ppA1,A13.
Dozens of women at the Inverclyde Advice and Employment
Rights Centre are complaining about medical problems that they
believe were caused by work at the National Semiconductor
Corporation's plant in Greenock, Scotland.
"There's a whole lot more who would be here with us," says
61 year old Doreen Robinson. "But they're already dead."
They blame their ailments on exposure to toxic chemicals.
"We all got a cocktail of gases, acids and chemicals," says Grace
Morrison, a National Semiconductor employee with uterine cancer.
Semiconductor manufacturers have often touted their industry
as clean, no visible pollution and no health risks. "This is an
environment that is cleaner than an operating room at a
hospital," says Lee Neal, head of safety, health and
environmental affairs for the Semiconductor Industry Association.
The clean, safe and sterile image is being challenged,
however. A growing amount of evidence indicates that working in
chip plants, especially older ones, can be hazardous. Interviews
have revealed stories of employees stumbling off production
lines, bleeding from the nose, vomiting in emergency showers and
passing out after chemical leaks.
Many of these incidents occurred years ago.
Health authorities have not concluded that there are
definitive links between chip making and cancer or birth defects.
The industry has opposed epidemiological studies of cancer rates
in workers, claiming the studies aren't warranted.
Some health experts are convinced otherwise. "We've been
warning for years you can't use these chemicals in a cavalier
manner," says Bruce Fowler, director of the University of
Maryland's toxicology program. "The blotches are starting to
National Conductor claims its plants are safe. "We have
never exposed our employees" to chemicals above legal limits,
said Edward Sweeney, vice president of human resources. "We have
seen no pattern of abnormalities at that plant."
The EPA agreed to spend $100,000 on the first large scale
study of birth-defect rates among chip workers, focusing on the
Silicon Valley. Chip companies refused to cooperate, however.
Timothy Mohin, director of environmental affairs for Intel
Corp., told a meeting of government, industry and environmental
officials that providing personnel records for the study "would
be like giving discovery to plaintiffs' lawyers," according to
some who had attended. "I might as well take a gun and shoot
"We felt this was something worth exploring," said Charles
Fox, an EPA official in charge of the project, but without
industry support the project was discontinued.
The article describes several other incidents and includes
more detail on the Greenock plant.
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