Employees at IBM’s Endicott, New York, facility may have been prone to develop certain types of cancer and other disease due to exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and other toxic chemicals in the workplace, according to the results of a government-led statistical analysis.
Endicott residents concerned about toxic exposure at IBM pushed for the study, which researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted during a five-year period using $3.1 million in federal funding. The comprehensive analysis examined the health of 34,494 workers who were employed at IBM’s Endicott facility between 1969 and 2001.
The study found that while the total number of deaths from all causes and the total number of deaths from cancer were lower among the IBM workers compared to the general population, the rate of death from certain types of cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma, mesothelioma, pleural cancer, rectal cancer, and testicular cancer) was higher than would be expected from the general population.
The study also found “A positive, statistically significant relation” between exposure to tetrachloroethylene and diseases affecting the nervous system, while exposure to trichloroethylene (or TCE) among the employees was linked to a type of leukemia. IBM’s Endicott facility used the industrial solvents for several years starting in 1961 as part of the industrial circuit board manufacturing process.
Despite the correlation between the IBM workers and rates of cancer, the study could not definitively link the two because of data limitations. “We don’t have measurements on who was exposed to what, when,” NIOSH research epidemiologist Sharon Silver, who led the study, told PressConnects.
“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,” the researchers said.
According to NIOSH, one additional part of the study that remains in process addresses “the question of whether or not the children of the former workers have increased incidences of birth defects.” That part of the study is expected to be completed later this year.