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Study Shows High Incidence of Miscarriages

January 19, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An unpublished study suggesting that women who assemble computer chips have a high incidence of miscarriages shouldn’t alarm the semiconductor industry, says the principal author of the study.

″This is not the definitive study,″ Edward J. Calabrese, a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health in Amherst, told the Los Angeles Times.

The study sent shock waves through the industry, challenging its reputation as a clean industry that poses few health and safety problems for its workers.

The industry-sponsored report last week prompted American Telephone & Telegraph Co. to recommend transfers for all pregnant women on its computer chip production lines in Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania and to guarantee them new jobs at comparable pay and benefits.

In California, major Silicon Valley manufacturers such as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and National Semiconductor Corp. informed employees of the study but have not changed policies governing pregnant workers.

″There just isn’t enough information yet,″ said Sheila Sandow, a spokeswoman for the Semiconductor Industry Association, the industry’s Cupertino-based trade organization.

The study of the Digital Equipment Corp.’s plant in Hudson, Mass., which was completed last fall, is the first comprehensive look at the health of semiconductor production workers, many of whom are exposed to a variety of dangerous solvents, acids and gases.

The study said there were seven miscarriages in a group of 67 female production workers, compared to the three or four miscarriages that would have been expected by chance.

The industry responses are ″clearly more conservative than our conclusions would necessarily warrant,″ Calabrese told the Times. He applauded semiconductor manufacturers, however, for ″erring on the side of safety.″

″Reproductive success is a sensitive issue,″ Calabrese said. ″The concern about job-related miscarriages is real but this is not the study that will end the debate.″

Digital commissioned the study by Calabrese and his colleague Harris Pastides, an epidemiologist, in 1984, after production workers at the plant west of Boston expressed alarm about what seemed to be a high number of miscarriages.

After the University of Massachusetts researchers briefed Digital on their results in November, word of the study spread rapidly. But some criticized the industry response as inadequate.

″The position AT&T has taken only goes half way,″ said Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an activist community organization based in San Jose. ″The industry should remove the dangerous chemicals from the workplace, not the workers.″

Later this month, a team of occupational health experts from the Semiconductor Industry Association will meet with the University of Massachusetts researchers and then make recommendations about further actions, perhaps including an industrywide study of miscarriages and other medical issues.

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