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Higher Risk of Miscarriage for Computer Chip Makers

December 4, 1992

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Women who work with chemical solvents while building computer chips have at least a 40 percent higher rate of miscarriages than other workers in the semiconductor industry, a study says.

The study, released Thursday, said the miscarriage risk was twice as high in some cases. It also suggested computer-chip assemblers are less likely to get pregnant than others in the industry.

The ill effects stem from the use of chemical solvents and compounds used in the manufacturing process, particularly glycol ethers, said Dr. Marc Schenker, chief of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of California-Davis, who disclosed the $3.8 million, 800-page survey.

He said the research suggested that chip makers faced a ″decreased possibility of getting pregnant, about 30 percent less for fabrication workers versus nonfabrication workers.″ That finding needs more study, he said.

The study evaluated the health of 15,000 workers at 14 companies in seven states. About 220,000 people work in the semiconductor industry throughout the nation. About half the employees studied worked in chip manufacturing.

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.

Schenker said the study did not seek to compare miscarriage rates between chip makers and the general population but, rather, between chip makers and other semiconductor industry workers.

The report recommended replacing 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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