Families Against Cancer & Toxics
Stop cancer before it starts
FACT note: Hats off to the brave scientists who are who are publicly denouncing this bad study design. It seems like the secret is getting out about studies that are "inconclusive by design." I'm glad public health still has honorable (and employed!) people to cry foul at these devious methods.
May 26, 2006
Greenock, UK -- MORE than 70 cancer deaths at Greenock’s Nat-Semi plant could be the tip of the iceberg, warn acitivists.
Campaigners pressing for answers about health concerns at the Larkfield computer technology plant say fresh cancer cases are coming to light all the time.
Experts have identified several types of cancer — including brain and breast tumours which are four to five times higher than normal.
Jim McCourt of Phase Two, a support group for Nat Semi workers, said: "This could be potentially the tip of the iceberg. Former employees and their survivors should be very concerned.”
The claim that at least 71 people have died so far as a result of exposure to chemicals at the computer chip plant comes in a letter signed by an international team of medical experts who are worried about proposed new research into the factory.
They allege the Government's Health and Safety Executive, which is carrying out the investigation, is coming under "undue political pressure to obtain equivocal or negative results".
Former employees have branded chemicals used at the plant "the asbestos of the future" because of projected care costs and payouts.
"For many years the public has been told that semiconductor and other hi-tech industry was the way forward. We are now having to look at the 'jobs at all cost' strategies that created this catastrophe.
"They are spine chilling working conditions, to work with these chemicals in such a haphazard manner."
A spokesperson for National Semiconductor said: “The health and safety of all our employees is absolutely paramount to National Semiconductor.
“We are continuing to work with the Health and Safety Executive and are committed to co-operating fully with its plans for a study.”
HEALTH experts from the US, England and Scotland have signed a letter condemning upcoming research into high rates of four cancers at National Semiconductor in Greenock.
The study is to be a follow-up to a 2001 report that found some employees at the Larkfield plant were up to four times more likely to develop cancers such as brain and breast.
But a year after it was supposed to be launched and six months before results were due, the study has yet to start.
The Telegraph ran a letter from research leader Dr John Osman in recent weeks and now global leaders in the field have slammed his comments.
The row stems from how many people are interviewed and studied this time round. In the 2001 research there were thousands of employees checked. Now they want to focus on about 200 while experts call for the entire semiconductor industry to be examined.
Professor Andrew Watterson of the University of Stirling was one of the six experts who signed the letter. He said big studies are better because they pick up any adverse health effects of chemicals.
He warned: "Employees should be concerned we won't apparently see large, preferably international studies, of the industry in the foreseeable future.
"Recent US studies indicate continued cause for concern about the industry and have not given it a clean bill of health. Small studies may show no problem when there may be a problem and lead to complacency or inaction.
"There are concerns are about public health threats to former workers which historically have been neglected.
"We have seriously under-estimated or downplayed the contribution that work-caused and work-related health plays in Scotland. If we don't look, we won't find. If we don't look properly, then we may miss serious occupational
"It is important if people have been adversely affected by work that their illnesses are recognised, recorded, that they get appropriate support and are compensated. It should also lead to better standards and prevention in workplaces as we learn from past failures rather than repeat them.
"We should still be pressing for bigger UK and indeed international studies of the semiconductor industry that look at a wide range of cancers."
WHAT THE LETTER SAID:
"The group of scientists and clinicians who have signed this letter are deeply concerned about the HSE proposal to study the cancer incidence in semiconductor workers, and suspicious that the agency is operating under undue political
pressure to obtain equivocal or negative results.
"No serious scientist would agree with your statement regarding the decision to study just four cancers in a very small study population.
"One way to obtain a reliably negative result is to design a study with limited statistical power to demonstrate an effect.
"It is remarkable that four apparent excesses in cancer were found in a study with a weak design and a total of only 71 deaths.
"The findings are used by the semiconductor industry to create a false reassurance that there is no cancer risk in the UK plants.
"HSE appears to be using the same small study tactic to dismiss the possibility that work with carcinogens in the semiconductor industry poses a risk for its workers.
"We strongly encourage the HSE to reexamine its plan to study cancer in semiconductor workers and to submit its study design for review and comment by unbiased scientists in a public process."
WHO SIGNED IT:
John C. Bailar III, PhD, Department of Health Studies, University of Chicago; Martin Bobak, PhD, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College Medical School, London; Bruce Fowler, PhD, Toxicology Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore; Joseph LaDou, MD, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco; Daniel T Teitelbaum, MD, University of Colorado School of Medicine and Colorado School of Mines, Denver; Andrew Watterson, PhD, Occupational, Environmental and Public Health Group, Stirling University; Charles Woolfson, PhD, Scottish Occupational H&S Research Network, Glasgow University.
Some of the chemicals used in making semiconductors:
• Arsine (gas): Toxic and flammable, exposure to this gas can kill you within hours as it attacks the red blood cells. It was used in World War I by the Germans in artillery shells. Used as part of a process to improve the electrical conductivity of the silcon for chips.
• Arsenic (solid): Can cause lung cancer if inhaled.
• Hydrogen fluoride (gas): Can burn under the skin, damaging internal tissue after hours being exposed to it ? even if you can't feel pain at first.
• Hydrofluoric, nitric and phosphoric acids: Silicon wafers are exposed to the acids in a chip-pan-like process. They can all burn the skin in the short term and add to long-term health problems.
• Silane: This gas ignites if it touches air and has seven times the energy of the same amoung of TNT explosive. Also used in the process to improve conductivity of silicon.