Semiconductor Clean Rooms Lawsuits

Semiconductor Clean Room Lawsuits

There has been a battery of liability lawsuits over chemical exposure for workers employed in semiconductor “clean rooms,” the facilities within a microchip manufacturing plant where chips are etched with powerful chemicals. The issue began to develop in the 1980s when exposure to ethylene glycol ethers, solvents used in the manufacturing process, was linked to an increase in the occurrence of miscarriages among women who were employed in the clean rooms. In the early 1980s some government agencies and chemical suppliers issued warnings about the possible adverse effects of exposure to the chemicals used in these facilities and the lack of control for the fumes generated during production.

In 1986 a Digital Equipment Corporation epidemiological study found a miscarriage rate 3 times the expected rate among female clean room workers at Digital’s chip fabrication plant in Hudson, Massachusetts. At the time, DEC was a major electronics component manufacturer.

More Medical Evidence

A study of 15 semiconductor manufacturers published in the December 1995 issue of the American Journal of Independent Medicine showed that women working in silicon wafer manufacturing rooms who handled chemicals including glycol ethers suffered a 14% miscarriage rate, compared to women in the industry who did not work in fabrication areas, who suffered a rate of 10%.

The ethylene based glycol ethers used in the computer chip manufacturing industry are most strongly associated with reproductive and developmental health problems, including: miscarriages, spontaneous abortions, damage to testes, damage to the embryo and fetus, and birth defects.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Davis and was cosponsored by the semiconductor industry. At that point, the major semiconductor manufacturers, which included Intel, IBM, AMD (Advanced MicroDevices), Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor and at least a dozen others began to look more carefully at some of their production procedures.

IBM Liability Settlements

So did the workers and an increasing number of liability law firms. The issue has expanded to a number of chemicals that are used in semiconductor manufacture and the list of alleged injuries caused by exposure has expanded also. In June 2004, IBM settled 50 toxic chemical lawsuits filed by former employees of the company’s San Jose disk drive manufacturing plant.

Workers allege they were exposed to dangerous chemicals such as benzene, acetone and trichloroethylene between the 1960s and 1980s and suffered chemical poisoning as a result. Several employees suffering from cancer blame the disorder on their exposure to the toxic chemicals. In March 2004, IBM settled a $100 million birth-defects lawsuit filed by an employee of a semiconductor plant in New York. Terms of both settlements were not revealed.

Recent Legal Activity

In 2007 a Texas woman who worked in an AMD semiconductor plant clean room from 1988 to 2002 filed a $15 million lawsuit against the chip maker and the medical practice that managed her 1991 pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of a son who has severe cognitive defects and is missing his right arm below the elbow. Now 16 years of age, the young man is the lead plaintiff in the suit.

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  1. Stefan k. Villmer says:

    So I work in a clean room, 17 years now, I have diverticulitis.. and have had a collectomy, I know of four other people with the same diagnosis. I know of three from my area that have died of brain tumors.. I’m getting a little nervous.. and now there are certain tools that cause an urgency to pee.. when it uses magnetic.. please help

  2. rmharrington says:

    The manner of how easily these possible complication slide pass our government safeguards is disturbing. I often wonder why the regulation authorities are never held accountable of these issues.

    Thanks for the information and the sound reporting, Mark. Your work is appreciated.

    rmharrington

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