SIA to pick cancer study contractor by end of the year


By Mark A. DeSorbo

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) says a contractor will be in place by the end of the year to conduct a retrospective epidemiological cancer study among U.S. chip fabrication employees.

The selection process will begin once Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health submits its final report.

"That final report will be very helpful in preparing the request for proposal," says John Greenagel, SIA's director of communications. "It will also be helpful to potential contractors who submit proposals to do the studies."

The SIA agreed to move forward with the study in March after a "thorough examination of records from SIA member companies," says Dr. Genevieve Matanowski, the lead Johns Hopkins investigator, adding that there is "sufficient, reliable and relevant data" to conduct the study.

The report from Johns Hopkins will ultimately be the basis for the request for proposal (RFP), Greenagle says.

"The next step is to prepare the RFP," he continues. "Our goal is to have the contractor in place by the end of the year. We can't conclude there is no risk, and the only way to do that is to do another study."

Believing that there will be "sufficient, reliable and relevant data" in hand, the SIA has agreed to move forward with a study on cancer among U.S. chip fabrication employees, saying a contractor to conduct the study will be in place by the end of the year.
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Sheila Davis, Clean Computer Campaign director for the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (San Jose, Calif.), says the SIA's action is a "good thing" but a long time coming.

"It's long overdue, and that's unfortunate because workers are potentially continuing to get sick as the industry conducts the study, which is 10 years overdue," she says.

"It's a quick-moving industry, and when there is a desire to get things done, they do it very rapidly."

Davis adds that there are also concerns about how the study will be conducted, and if there will be a third-party oversight involved.

"At least they are moving toward doing it," Davis says. "If it turns out to be a poorly conducted study, though, it will be a setback for everyone."

Hindered by complexities

Greenagle points out that while some of SIA's critics and the media say the study is taking too long, the duration it took to get to this point was not very long at all, considering some of the complexities.

Those complexities, which boil down to loads of employment, personnel, industrial hygiene and manufacturing records, date back to the 1960s—the birth of the semiconductor industry, when the earliest records were mostly on paper and from different companies.

"From the mid-'80s, records are in electronic format, but from equipment that is no longer in use," Greenagle says. "The other challenge is that some of these companies no longer exist. The fabs have been closed, and so there's no particular reason to keep those records."

There are other issues to resolve, says Greenagle, namely when it comes to how many companies will participate.

"We have had a number of commitments, but we are not going to reveal who they are," he notes. "But there is a substantial portion of the U.S. industry. IBM is not participating; they are doing their own study. They are not opposed to this, they are just conducting their own."

Foreign-owned chip manufacturers who have fabs in the U.S. will also be invited to participate, Greenagle says.

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