Possible Links Between Currently Used Semi-Conductor Solvents and Reproductive Effects

Alo, Adeniyi
(University of Arizona)

The workforce has changed dramatically over the years, with more women in the workforce now than ever before. Women now account for a sizeable portion (42.5%) of the US work force that now numbers over 100 million (Bureau of Labor Statistics). It has been estimated that 500,000 cases of job related illnesses occur annually in the United States (National Safety Council). The substantial increase in the number of women in the workforce has widened the scope of occupational diseases to include feminine specific occupational safety and health hazards including:

– Cervical and uterine cancer

– Birth defects

– Spontaneous abortion

– Teratogenesis

– Infertility

The issue of reproductive effects is a serious one because of the impact that it has on the health of future generations. Potential negative impacts on company and industry reputation and image are also a major concern. At present, a number of allegations are being made on a wide variety of web sites concerning solvents used in the semiconductor industry and possible reproductive effects. Such sites represent a major source of information for the US public, irrespective of the scientific validity of their content. A good example is a report about litigation brought by former semiconductor workers in California. According to the article, six out of the fourteen employees who worked in the materials analysis department of a disk drive manufacturing operation are now dead. In addition, birth defects including microcephaly, blindness, and shortened limbs are reported. Alleged exposures associated with that process include solvents such as methyl ethyl ketone, TCE, glycol ethers, freon, phenols, and dichlorobenzene. Many of those exposures occurred over thirty years ago.

The purpose of my proposed study is to conduct an analysis of the information accessible on the web concerning the issue of reproductive effects in women employed in the semiconductor industry relative to solvents commonly used in the industry. My initial objectives will be to extract as complete a list as possible of solvents that allegedly cause reproductive effects, and to characterize the types of effects associated with each solvent. My next objective will be to select from the compiled list a group of solvents that currently have widespread use in the semiconductor industry, and to conduct an in-depth toxicological review of that group of solvents to compare the alleged reproductive effects with what is contained in the scientific literature. My final objective will be to develop a representative expression of the validity of the toxicological information about reproductive hazards that is provided on web sites that can be accessed using a standard general search protocol. I will exclude the glycol ethers from my assessment since their reproductive effects have already been extensively studied and characterized.

The perceived relevance of the proposed study to the semi-conductor industry is an analysis of the validity of toxicological information concerning reproductive effects that is generally available and accessible to the public. If substantial mis-information is found, the study would highlight an area that can have substantial effect on public perception of the industry, and that may require a more focused effort to counter the adverse effects of the mis-information.

As a Nigerian trained pharmacist and a member of the Federation of International Pharmacists, I feel that I have the background to address this issue. What I am learning from the master’s program in environmental and occupational health will provide additional context about exposure-effects relationships. It will also strengthen my background knowledge of the industry where I hope to work after my degree. An extensive search of web sites uncovered by a routine search protocol and a thorough literature review of relevant toxicological information will be the approach used to address the proposed research. Confirmation of current solvent use patterns in the semiconductor industry by members of SESHA will be an invaluable additional resource.

Back to SESHA 25th Annual Symposium (2003)



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