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Cancer Rates Among Former IBM Plant Workers Subject of Proposed Study

Nov 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Federal health officials are getting ready to launch a massive study to find out if IBM workers at a plant in upstate New York have higher rates of  cancer than other people.  The study, to be conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), was the topic of a public meeting Saturday at the Broome County Department of Health in Binghamton, NY.

The IBM study will address concerns about chemical exposure at the company's Endicott, NY plant and nearby neighborhoods polluted with industrial solvents. In January, dozens of former and current residents of Endicott and the neighboring Town of Union filed suit against IBM, accusing the company of releasing "millions of gallons of various industrial chemicals" into local groundwater between 1924 and 2002.  The plant produced circuit boards, integrated circuits and other computer components before IBM sold the property in 2002.

The lawsuit claims the toxins vaporized into the homes and businesses of Endicott and Union causing kidney cancer in adults and congenital heart defects in infants.  An earlier report from the New York Sate Department of Heath documented higher rates of those health problems in areas affected by the pollution, although a cause for the ailments was not found.

The objective of the proposed NIOSH study is to find cancer cases related to chemicals used at IBM, including Trichloroethylene or TCE.  Whatever is learned from the IBM cancer study  may eventually be applied to other manufacturing groups outside IBM.

Experts cautioned meeting attendees that  the study will not be able to link mortality and cancer rates with specific chemicals used at the plant. "Some groups of workers at the facility may have been exposed to many different chemicals in the processes they were working on. So if we see any adverse outcomes, it would be difficult to know exactly which chemicals might have, um, contributed to those health outcomes," said Sharon Silver, NIOSH researcher.

Silver told attendees it could take as long as  sevens years to get preliminary results.  "The community doesn't want to wait for answers," Silver said. "We know people have been waiting for a while."

The study, which will cost around $3.1 million, would involve approximately 28,000 former IBM workers.

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