Hazards of the job, manufacturing health concerns: Matt's Memo

The discussion of melanoma, mesothelioma and testicular cancer caught my attention when a new study came about the dangers of the industrial workplace. Our fading old factories of Upstate New York were once fertile ground for labor opportunities. Those assembly lines put food on the table and children through college. They also exposed long time workers to chemicals that carried the potential for increased health risks later in life.

The study done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigated the work life of more than 34,000 workers at the IBM Endicott plant in the Southern Tier. Researchers looked at the exposure to employees from 1969 until 2001. The research was done at the request of citizens, community leaders and politicians with concern over tricholoroethylene and perchlorethylene in groundwater and air emissions.

The research examined death records, work records and other documentation about illnesses of both hourly and salaried workers. They even broke out certain diseases to look for correlations to specific buildings where one type of manufacturing or another was done.

You can read details of the NIOSH report on IBM Endicott plant and worker mortality rates here. Some of what was discovered was an increased risk of numerous cancers including non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, testicular cancer and pleural cancer. The report stops well short of making a direct link between chemicals used in certain processes as a cause of widespread health problems.

Taking the bigger picture on a study like this and with the advantage of decades of hindsight - one has to appreciate the hard and risky work of the labor force of a generation or two ago. We would suspect the corporate world often knew of the potential health risks before the employee did. Yet, in the name of getting the job done and making a profit the slightly elevated risk of premature death was an accepted cost.

Makes you wonder what other in depth studies would uncover of the many defunct plants that stretch across Upstate New York.


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