CINCINNATI (AP) _ Workers at an atomic weapons plant had a significantly higher rate of cancer than the rest of the U.S. population and died earlier, according to a statistician who studied their health records.

The study was commissioned by lawyers for more than 6,000 former workers at the former Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald who have sued the plant's operator, NLO Inc., saying they weren't informed of health risks.

Peter Gartside, a biostatistician at the University of Cincinnati, reviewed government records on the deaths of 1,371 Fernald workers between 1953 and 1991.

He found workers died at a median age of 58, five years younger than the U.S. median at the time.

The workers also had significantly higher rates of colon, liver, gastrointestinal, lung, blood and lymph cancer than the general population, Gartside said.

Gartside's conclusions contradict a study done for NLO by Geoffrey Howe, director of epidemiological studies at the National Cancer Institute of Canada, who found no higher-than-normal rate of cancer in the plant's work force.

The New York Times reported today that the different conclusions could be the result of different bases for comparison. Gartside compared Fernald workers with the U.S. population; Howe used the population of Ohio, the newspaper said.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial this summer in federal court. Another lawsuit by residents of the Fernald community, about 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati, was settled for $78 million in 1989.

The Fernald plant processed uranium for nuclear weapons until 1989 and is now being cleaned up.