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Moms-to-be banned from 'chip room.' (chemicals and gases used in semiconductor production may cause miscarriage)

Moms-to-be banned from 'chip room'

Earlier this month, AT&T announced that it would no longer allow pregnant women to work on its semiconductor production lines, the so-called "clean rooms." Other microelectronics firms have offered their pregnant employees the option of transferring out of production areas where exposure to chemicals and gases is possible. This spreading concern over pregnancy risks follows the recent report that women in the semiconductor industry may be more likely to miscarry.

The study--done under contract for Digital Equipment Corp., a computer manufacturer with various locations in Massachusetts--was conducted by scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Results from the epidemiologic study, released to Digital but yet to be formally published, indicate that women in the microchip etching area had nearly twice the miscarriage rate found in the general population. Data collection for the study began in 1984 at Digital's Hudson, Mass., plant, after employees became suspicious about the number of miscarriages among them.

Harris Pastides and Edward J. Calabrese, who expanded the study to 744 subjects when initial data from a smaller group did not reveal anything unusual, conclude in their report that workers treating chips with etching acids and gases have a first-trimester miscarriage rate of 39 percent. Workers in another area where chips are washed in acids had a miscarriage rate of 29 percent, not statistically significant according to Pastides. He told SCIENCE NEWS that the unexposed control group had an 18 percent rate, within the national average range of 10 to 20 percent. Although it caused alarm in the industry, the Digital study does not prove a cause-effect relationship between miscarriage and chip production. It also does not identify individual chemicals as possible culprits.

Pastides refused to give full details of the study prior to publication in a medical journal, but he told SCIENCE NEWS that there were only 12 miscarriages in each of the two exposed groups. "The finding is not based on a huge number of miscarriages or pregnancies," he says. "So it certainly calls for replicative studies.... We also really need to do more extensive exposure measurements."
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 31, 1987
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