IBM Cancer Study Shows Elevated Risk Among Workers

IBM employees have an increased risk of dying of cancer as a result of exposure to solvents and other chemicals in manufacturing operations, according to a study published in the Oct. 18 issue of Environmental Health Journal.

IBM employees have an increased risk of dying of cancer as a result of exposure to solvents and other chemicals in manufacturing operations, according to a study published in the Oct. 18 issue of Environmental Health Journal.

The study's author, Richard Clapp from the Boston University School of Public Health, analyzed 31,941 deaths of workers who had been employed at IBM factories across the country for at least 5 years between 1969 and 2001. The information came from a Corporate Mortality File IBM released during the course of a California lawsuit in 2002.

The study reveals that IBM factory workers were more likely to have died of cancer, including brain, kidney or breast cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, than the rest of the population, although Clapp said he was not able to link the deaths to any specific chemicals or other toxic exposures. He said the mortality in several types of cancer were especially prevalent in manufacturing workers and workers at particular plants in California, Minnesota, New York and Vermont.

The study indicates that there was an excess of deaths due to cancer of the brain and central nervous system, specifically among males. Excesses of lung, stomach and breast cancers were statistically significant among females.

The current study confirms previous, smaller studies and highlights clear health risks for workers in computer factories across the world, according to Clapp.

IBM Spokesman: Study "Not Backed By Legitimate Science"

Chris Andrews, an IBM spokesperson, refuted the conclusions made in Clapp's study.

"Dr. Clapp is not a credible source as his study is not backed by legitimate science," Andrews told Occupationalhazards.com.

According to Andrews, the Corporate Mortality File from which the study was derived was an "incomplete human resources database that IBM used years ago in conjunction with providing benefits to beneficiaries of deceased IBM employees."

"It really contained no information that would support the study of and the drawing of scientifically valid conclusions with regard to diseases among IBM workers," he said.

Andrews also pointed to a recent University of Alabama and Harvard University study showing that IBM employees who worked at three of the company's assembly plants for more than 3 decades had lower overall mortality and cancer incidence rates than the general population.

Clapp's study, however, also referenced the mortality study of the three IBM plants and asserted that it "identified significant excess central nervous system cancer in one plant and excess prostate cancer in another plant."


- Katherine Torres

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