Data presented by SHARPS strongly suggest, but do not yet prove, a causal link between chemical exposures in the process of semiconductor production and the malignancies developed by workers in the industry, two medical researchers said in an editorial for the summer 2012 issue of International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.
The summer 2012 issue of IJOEH also published a paper entitled “Leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in semiconductor industry workers in Korea,” which studied blood-disorder victims of South Korea’s semiconductor industry as profiled by SHARPS.
Samsung must disclose more information about chemicals employed in semiconductor production and the characteristics of workers who have and who have not developed blood disorders to conclusively determine a causal link, Mira Lee, of Physicians for Humanism, a South Korean medical advocacy group, and Howard Waitzkin, of the University of New Mexico, said.
The researchers noted: “Samsung, the world’s largest information technology and electronics corporation (as measured by revenues), has refused to make public such data concerning the industrial processes that affect electronics workers and has impeded attempts by independent researchers to obtain essential information.”
Indeed, the lack of information narrowed the sample size and hampered the researchers’ ability to statistically associate the cancer cluster at Samsung with toxic exposures. The editorial said: “Due to this methodological challenge of proving causality with small numbers of cases, clusters of cancer like those that have appeared among Samsung workers may not receive the urgent attention and action that they deserve.”
The editorial also pointed to Samsung’s longstanding anti-unionism and its top-down, centralized corporate governance: “[Samsung’s] long-standing policy that prohibits union organizing has attracted critical attention. Samsung’s overall corporate structure centralizes the policy-making that governs the activities of its vast network of subsidiary corporations. This centralization of decision making has received critical assessment even from investors concerned about the Samsung Group’s overall corporate efficiency.”
Finally, the editorial touted the activism of SHARPS, saying: “[SHARPS] researchers have pursued their work heroically, against tremendous obstacles erected by the Samsung Group and the government of South Korea. The researchers, who benefit from extensive training and experience in occupational health, bridge academia and a non-governmental organization that aims to improve occupational health conditions for electronics workers.”
As of March 2012, SHARPS has profiled 155 workers who contracted various forms of leukemia, multiple sclerosis and aplastic anemia after employment in the electronics industry in South Korea. As of June, 2012, of the 155, 63 have died. The majority of the workers, 138, were employed at Samsung Electronics, Samsung Electro-Mechanics and Samsung SDS—the three electronics affiliates of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate. Among the 63 deaths were 56 Samsung employees.
The study, Leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in semiconductor industry workers in Korea,” can be downloaded for U$48.
The IJOEH editorial, A heroic struggle to understand the risk of cancers among workers in the electronics industry: the case of Samsung, can be downloaded free of charge.