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NIOSH: Endicott IBM Workers at Greater Risk for Some Job-Related Cancers

Jan. 8, 2014
A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined records from a former IBM plant in Endicott, N.Y. to assess whether occupational exposures at the plant put former workers at risk for job-related mortality and cancer.

A new study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has determined that deaths from several types of cancer were more common in workers at a now-closed IBM facility in Endicott, N.Y. than in the general population. NIOSH conducted the study at the request of the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), congressional representatives from New York and community stakeholders.  

This study examined available records for 34,494 workers employed at the plant from 1969 to 2001.  The study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found that:

  • The total number of deaths from all causes and all cancers combined were lower among the IBM workers in the study than what would be expected from the general population.
  • Deaths from some types of cancer (rectal cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, mesothelioma, pleural cancer) and cases of testicular cancer were more frequent in some groups of workers than would be expected from the general population.
  • Several types of cancer were relatively more common in workers who had more potential exposure to specific chemicals or worked longer in certain production buildings.

These findings could be due to job exposures, to other factors the researchers could not assess in this study (such as job exposures at other worksites, smoking or family disease history), or to chance.

Because of study limitations, it was not possible to definitively answer the question of whether job exposures to chemicals at the plant put workers at higher risk of cancer. There were limitations in the data available to the researchers, and, because of the relative youth of the study population, it may be too soon to observe some work-related health effects.

One additional component of the study is still in process and expected to be completed in late 2014.  Along with NYSDOH, NIOSH is analyzing data to address the question of whether or not the children of the former workers have increased incidences of birth defects.

NIOSH on Jan. 23 will hold a public meeting for stakeholders and other interested parties to discuss results of the study for job-related mortality and cancer. The meeting will be held in Endicott at 6:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 53 McKinley Ave., Endicott.

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