The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is nearing the conclusion of its decades long study of the potential health impacts of chemical exposures on former workers of a now-closed IBM plant. Preliminary results were published recently, indicating inconclusive results.
The study followed the health trajectories of over 30,000 plant workers from 1969 to 2001, evaluating the risks for premature death, testicular cancer, and birth defects in children born to workers. The birth defects component of the study has not been completed. Results are anticipated for late 2014.
- There was no definitive link between chemical exposures at IBM and combined cancers. The total numbers of deaths from all cancers were fewer among IBM workers than what would be expected in the general population.
- Deaths from particular cancers (e.g., rectal cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, mesothelioma, and pleural cancer) and cases of testicular cancer occurred more frequently in certain groups of workers.
- Several types of cancer occurred more frequently in workers who had more potential exposure to certain chemicals or worked longer in specific production buildings.
The study experienced several limitations. Firstly, data restrictions made it difficult to say whether or not cancers that did occur were not the result of exposures at other work sites, family disease histories, or personal health behaviors (e.g., smoking). Also, many of the workers included in the study were quite young and some health effects may not yet be observable.
The study was sparked by reported health impairments of many workers who served in particular IBM buildings in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Individuals reported lung ailments, skin rashes, and cancers. Pregnant women reported miscarriages and birth defects. These reports sparked lawsuits, including those in San Jose, California, wherein 50 families sued IBM for illnesses related to exposure to acetone, benzene, trichloroethylene and other chemicals.
Emilcott has been providing exposure assessments and industrial hygiene services to all types of industries and operations for over 25 years.