Visit from IBM health study authors long awaited

By Matt Porter

January 23, 2014 Updated Jan 23, 2014 at 9:48 PM EDT

Endicott, NY (WBNG Binghamton) It was almost a decade ago when Wanda Hudak, a former IBM employee, asked for a study to be done on the health of IBM workers exposed to toxic chemicals.

"If they had started studying and ready to go ten years ago," Hudak said, "We'd be a lot further along than we are right now."

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health commissioned a study in 2009 to examine more than 34,000 health records of former IBM employees from 1965-2001.

Hudak, who chairs the Western Broome Stakeholder's Coalition, said she was impressed by the thoroughness of the government since the study began.

"The past five years, they've done a massive job," she said.

The report released this month showed elevated cancer levels for IBM employees who worked in close contact with the toxic chemicals used at the plant.

"We saw elevations in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and rectal cancer in that group," said the study's lead author, Sharon Silver. "In salary workers, we saw an elevation in testicular cancer."

But poor record keeping by IBM and the relative youth of the study's subjects make it impossible to connect working at IBM with an increased chance in developing a disease like cancer.

"We can't definitively say whether 'X' chemical exposures, specific chemical exposures at this facility were linked to health outcomes," Silver said.

The study was done only by examining paper records, no subjects were interviewed during the five-year project.

Silver said interviews could give them the chance to ask about health habits like smoking and alcohol consumption.

Hudak, whose organization has advocated local, state, and federal governments to push IBM to clean up its mess, said the study brought up conditions she hadn't thought of before.

"The study shows more neurological problems than were expected," Hudak said. "Things like M.S., Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, those are serious diseases, those are crippling diseases."

Hudak said the NIOSH study is only the beginning, and she said her group will call for more action.

"NIOSH just hasn't gone far enough," she said. "We need more time, do more study, make it more specific."

The NIOSH study has one part to still complete.

NIOSH is working with the New York State Department of Health to determine if there was an increased risk of birth defects found in children of IBM workers.

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