IBM Worker Lawsuits
SV Toxics Coalition
Sep 23, 2003 10:11 PDT
September 23, 2003
Greetings, here are more articles about the upcoming lawsuit.
Apologies for multiple postings.
Review finds IBM tracked deaths
CANCER-WORKER LINK CLAIMED IN LAWSUIT
By Julie Sevrens Lyons
Attorneys in a major Silicon Valley cancer cluster lawsuit against IBM
have uncovered a ``corporate mortality file'' in which IBM tracked the
deaths of more than 30,000 workers -- and the lawyers claim the company
knew its electronics workers were dying of cancer more often than
As the case approaches its first hearing in court Friday, the IBM death
records have been reviewed by a medical expert hired by former IBM
workers, who contend that chemicals used in making disk drives and other
microelectronics at a plant in San Jose are responsible for high cancer
deaths. The IBM file tracks employee deaths by cause and workplace
location from 1969 to 2000, according to the review.
IBM maintains there is no scientific evidence tying cancer among its
employees to the workplace. But the medical expert's review, obtained by
the Mercury News on Monday, says that IBM employees died of certain
cancers at higher rates and younger ages than the general population,
and that the higher cancer death rates are especially striking for
workers in manufacturing jobs at certain unspecified locations.
The review -- which included employees at IBM facilities in New York and
other locations -- also found that IBM was aware of the higher cancer
rates decades ago.
``By 1975, IBM must have known their manufacturing employees had
significantly increased death rates due to cancer and must have known
that through the next two decades,'' the review says. It was conducted
by Richard Clapp, a Boston University epidemiologist who analyzed the
corporate mortality file, a massive database held on seven computer
The mortality file was recently given to attorneys for the plaintiffs by
mistake after IBM failed to mark it as confidential, plaintiffs'
attorney Richard Alexander said.
According to Clapp's review, data from the corporate mortality file
suggests that IBM workers were much more likely to die from cancers of
the breast, blood and lymph than the general population.
``IBM employees have suffered much more than their expected share of
cancer,'' the review states.
IBM spokesman Bill Hughes did not return messages left by the Mercury
News on Monday. He told Reuters news service that ``These are tragic
cases, but there is no scientific evidence that there are increased
rates of diseases of any kind among IBM employees.'' He also said the
mortality file was simply used to provide benefits for families of
deceased employees and is not a reliable document for studying disease.
The file is likely to be a critical piece of evidence in the first of a
series of lawsuits filed against IBM by former workers and company
scientists. Four former Silicon Valley employees and their survivors are
part of the first suit. In all, more than 250 former IBM workers around
the country or their families have sued the company for not protecting
them against chemical exposure known to cause cancer, Alexander said.
The case is being closely -- and nervously -- watched by the
The lawsuits have been filed by workers or their families from IBM
manufacturing plants in San Jose, New York and Minnesota. Attorneys
believe that is just a small portion of the workers who could have
potentially been harmed by the materials they worked with every day for
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Friday, when IBM will ask a Santa
Clara County Superior Court judge to dismiss the case before it goes to
trial. If that effort fails, a trial is expected to go forward next
If a strong case can be made against Big Blue, experts believe, other
semiconductor firms could be next in line for contentious litigation
waged by their workers.
``IBM was much more sophisticated than many of the start-ups at that
time,'' said Joe LaDou, director of the International Center for
Occupational Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.
If IBM was more advanced than other companies, it is a fair assumption,
LaDou said, that workers at other semiconductor firms sustained even
greater exposure levels to potential carcinogens.
An IBM spokesman on the West Coast said no one from the company was
available to comment late Monday.
Dozens of chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, benzene and
hydrochloric acid have been used in electronics manufacturing. Chip
making, one of the most highly scrutinized processes, involves exposing
silicon layers of every chip to the highly toxic substances. But there
has been little evidence to conclusively link the chemicals to cancer in
humans. And long-term research to answer the cancer question is
virtually non-existent, as the semiconductor industry has been loath to
participate in comprehensive studies of the health complaints of its
One effort, by the California Department of Health Services and the
Environmental Protection Agency, was stymied several years ago after the
semiconductor industry refused to cooperate with the program to track
cancers, birth defects and other health problems in employees.
Industry critics have argued that many chip workers have been misled by
the title of the very areas in which they work. So-called ``clean
rooms'' where chips are made have been designed to protect computer
chips from contaminants. The rooms, with their famed ``bunny suits,''
however, do not protect workers from the chemicals.
Chemical fumes can repeatedly recirculate through the recycled air,
exposing workers -- often women and ethnic minorities -- to potentially
Arsenic has been found to cause liver, kidney, lung, bladder and skin
cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health. Benzene has
been linked to leukemia, and cadmium to lung damage, bone defects and
Just how all these chemicals, when mixed, interact with a worker's
health remains unclear. But attorney Alexander argues that IBM, with its
decades of data on deaths, should have done more to protect its staff.
``This is a tragedy,'' he said. ``These people were literally worked to
Calif. Court to Decide on IBM Cancer Suit
Sun September 21, 2003 04:09 PM ET
By Daniel Sorid
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The first of about 250 worker health lawsuits
filed against IBM across the country reaches a critical juncture in a
California court this month, when a judge rules on whether to let the
case of four cancer-stricken former employees go to trial.
The four have charged that they were poisoned by chemicals while working
at an International Business Machines Corp. electronics factory in San
Jose. Workers at IBM plants in Minnesota and New York have made similar
An epidemiologist hired by the workers said in court documents he found
"alarming" results about the incidence of cancer in death records kept
by IBM for 30,000 employees.
But IBM insists there is no scientific evidence supporting the claims.
It further argues that it is protected by a California workers'
compensation law that prohibits employees from suing employers for
damages in most cases.
The plaintiffs have sought an exception on the grounds that IBM knew
that workers were being exposed to systemic chemical poisoning and did
not tell them. In response, IBM has argued that chemical poisoning does
not identify a particular injury as the law requires.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Robert Baines on Sept. 26 is
scheduled to hear motions by IBM, as well as some of its chemical
suppliers, to dismiss the case. If that request is denied, a trial is
scheduled for October. Another 36 lawsuits against IBM have been filed
related to the San Jose plant.
In 2001, IBM settled a lawsuit filed by two former workers who claimed
that their exposure to chemicals in a New York electronics plant caused
severe birth defects in their son. IBM did not admit liability in the
case and cited the potential cost of a long-running trial.
"These are tragic cases," said IBM spokesman Bill Hughes, "but there is
no scientific evidence that there are increased rates of diseases of any
kind among IBM employees."
IBM's semiconductor manufacturing facility in San Jose employed about
50,000 people since 1965, and was sold to Japan's Hitachi Ltd. last
'CLEAN ROOM' CONFLICT
The case has stirred up a years-old controversy over claims that working
conditions inside electronics and microchip plants sickened employees
and gave their children birth defects.
The kind of assembly work conducted by the employees in the suit --
Alida Hernandez, James Moore, Maria Santiago, along with representatives
of the deceased Suzanne Rubio -- has dwindled in recent years in the
United States as some older equipment has been shut down or exported to
Asia, a lower-cost production center.
Environmental advocates claim that electronics workers have suspiciously
high rates of miscarriages, brain cancer and other illnesses. The
employees at the San Jose plant say they have worked with known
carcinogens such as benzene, ethyl alcohol, and vinyl chloride.
"They're being exposed to many, many chemicals, all at one time," said
Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an
environmental advocacy group.
Last year, an evaluation conducted for the Semiconductor Industry
Association, of which IBM is a member, showed no definitive proof to
support the claims of either side. The group is now investigating
whether a more complete investigation is feasible.
"We have always had as our top priority protecting the health and safety
of our workers, and that's been a program we've had underway for the
last 20 years," said George Scalise, president of the association.
IBM 'CORPORATE MORTALITY' FILE
According to documents filed with the court, an epidemiologist at the
Boston University School of Public Health, hired by the workers, has
said he has reviewed a database of death records for more than 30,000
IBM employees who died between 1969 and 2000.
That so-called corporate mortality file, according to Dr. Richard Clapp,
showed that IBM employees who worked in manufacturing jobs had a
significantly increased risk of dying of certain types of cancer. Deaths
from breast cancer for women workers at the San Jose plant were higher
than in the general population, he said.
"IBM employees have suffered much more than their expected share of
cancer," Clapp said, according to a declaration filed with the court.
Clapp could not be reached for further comment.
IBM's Hughes said its file was maintained for the purpose of providing
benefits to families of deceased employees, and as such was an invalid
way to study rates of disease.
IBM has commissioned scientists at the University of Alabama at
Birmingham to conduct a study on cancer incidence and mortality at three
of its manufacturing plants. Conclusions from that study were not yet
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