by CIO Staff

Study: Cancer Risk Boosted by PC Plant Employment

Oct 20, 20063 mins
Data Center

Research conducted by a Boston University (BU) environmental health professor, which suggests employment at PC-manufacturing plants increases risk of developing various forms of cancer, has finally been published after years of efforts by IBM to prevent its public release, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Richard Clapp, the BU professor, based his research on IBM’s so-called “Corporate Mortality File,” which is made up of data the PC giant collected itself in relation to the ages and causes of death of almost 32,000 former employees who died between 1969 and 2001, according to the Journal.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM has for years, and continues to label Clapp’s study—aptly named “Mortality among U.S. employees of a large computer manufacturing company”—“junk science,” the Journal reports.

Clapp first obtained IBM’s Corporate Mortality File as part of a lawsuit filed against the PC maker by a handful of employees from a San Jose, Calif., disk-drive plant who were diagnosed with cancer, according to the Journal. Clapp was brought on as an expert witness to analyze the data, and after a few of the plaintiffs eventually settled—following dismissals of some of their suits—Clapp continued to pursue the issue by attempting to publish his examination, the Journal reports.

In 2004, Clapp’s work garnered attention when its slated release in a scholarly journal was canceled by the publisher after IBM logged a number of complaints, according to the Journal. The firm claimed it only released the data as part of the previous legal proceedings and that it should not be published, the Journal reports.

Clapp now says IBM has ceased its efforts to block publication of the research, which examines the death records of both males and females employed by IBM for five years, according to the Journal.

As part of the study, Clapp compared the cancer death rates of the male and female subjects to the national average death rates of specific cancers, the Journal reports.

The following are among his findings, according to the Journal:

  • Of the 27,272 males who died, 7,697 passed away as a result of cancer, and Clapp said that number is notably higher than the 7,206 deaths expected based on the average national rates.

  • Of the 4,669 females who passed, 1,667 died of some form of cancer, and again Clapp said that number is significantly higher than the 1,454 expected based on the average national rates.

Many semiconductor and disk-drive manufacturing facilities across the world employ materials and substances that have been linked to cancer, the Journal reports. The IBM data didn’t include information on what chemicals and other substances were used by which employees—or other background like whether they smoked or worked in other potentially harmful environments—so Clapp couldn’t take these factors into consideration, according to the Journal.

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