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Higher Risk of Miscarriage for Computer Chip Makers

December 4, 1992

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Women who make computer chips have more miscarriages and may conceive at a lower rate than other female workers in the semiconductor industry, according to a study released Thursday.

The $3.8 million investigation, financed by semiconductor manufacturers, found that the miscarriage rate of pregnant workers who make computer chips was about 40 percent higher than others.

In some high-risk cases, it was twice as high, said Dr. Marc Schenker, chief of environmental and occupational medicine at the university’s Davis campus. He disclosed the results of the 800-page survey.

The study, prompted by a more limited 1988 health hazards study commissioned by Digital Equipment Corp., was conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis, along with others at UC-Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts.

Miscarriages and other ill effects stem from the use of chemical solvents and compounds used in the manufacturing process, particularly the glycol ethers.

Schenker said the study suggested that chip makers faced a ″decreased possibility of getting pregnant, about 30 percent less for fabrication workers versus nonfabrication workers.″

But, he added, this information ″needs to be followed up.″

The study, which UC officials said was the largest of its kind, evaluated the health conditions of 15,000 workers at 14 companies in seven states from a larger pool of 50,000 workers, both men and women.

About 220,000 people work in the semiconductor industry throughout the nation.

The miscarriage data largely resulted from day-to-day tracking of 900 pregnant workers - 450 of whom worked in chip fabrication, and 450 who didn’t.

Those who did not produce the chips reported a 10 percent miscarriage rate, or 45 miscarriages. The women who built the chips reported a 14 percent rate overall, or 63 miscarriages, although in some cases the rate reached 20 percent.

The report recommended replacing critical chemicals - such as glycol ethers - with other compounds and limiting workers’ exposure time during chip manufacturing.

Craig Modahl, a representative of chip-making giant Intel Corp., said the industry had not yet developed a response to the recommendations. But he said the survey results showed that ″clearly the controls need to be better. The days of glycol ethers in the manufacturing process are numbered.″

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