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22 workers have contracted disease

Samsung Electronics and may other makers of memory and microchips around the world sometimes use chemicals and other materials in the construction of their products that are toxic and could be lethal to humans if exposed in large doses. Samsung has been battling allegations that some workers in its plants in China have contracted cancer from exposure into the work place.

Samsung has been under pressure by activist groups to take responsibility for the incidents of workers contracting leukemia or lymphoma. So far, 22 workers from the chip plants Samsung operates have been diagnosed with lymphoma or leukemia between 1998 and 2010. Ten of these workers have died because of the diseases so far. Samsung has long maintained that the chemicals it uses in the production of chips at the plants have not caused the cancers in workers.

Samsung Memory Division president Cho Soo-in said, "We are deeply sorry about the loss of loved ones... and we've actively cooperated on epidemiologic investigations, which concluded there were no leaks of radiation." He continued saying, "But I feel we should also have done this (communicated with the public) in the first place to stop speculation from growing."

The Korea Times reports that Samsung is working hard to reduce the suspicions that the workers contracted the diseases while working at Samsung's plants. In an effort to do this, the electronics giant is opening up some of its plants to reporters. These plants are usually closely guarded and only open to visiting politicians.

The latest Samsung worker to succumb to diseases believed to be contracted at the Samsung plant was 23-year-old Park Ji-yeon, who was a worker at the Samsung plant in Onyang in the North Chungcheong Province since 2004. She died from leukemia and used an x-ray machine to check chips produced at the plant. The process produced radiation which some believe caused her leukemia.

The Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency has stated that the relationship between working conditions and leukemia is unclear. The agency stated, "The chances of males getting leukemia or cancer was lower than average, while among females, the chances of dying from the disease were 1.48 times higher than normal, which could be considered insignificant."

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Cashing in?
By Earthmonger on 4/15/2010 11:48:49 AM , Rating: 4
22 people over the course of 12 years seems a rather ambiguous sum. How many tens of thousands of employees has Samsung used during these 12 years? Hmm. I'm suspicious. It may be just as likely that these 12 people either did, or are suffering the effects of long-term exposure to China's polluted environment, and looking to cash in on a corporate giant. Something's amiss.

RE: Cashing in?
By bigdawg1988 on 4/15/2010 12:09:44 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. Where's the data? I'm no reporter, but this doesn't seem like a good news story to me, especially for a tech site. I hate to trash you guys like others have, but flesh this out or can it.

RE: Cashing in?
By ChristopherO on 4/15/2010 2:22:20 PM , Rating: 5
Sadly I currently am battling leukemia and have been since early last year. It's not fun... Even when you are in a first world country and have one of the best doctors anywhere for this disease.

The thing, leukemia is actually pretty rare... There are approximately 40,000 diagnosis annually in the United States. That works out to 1:7,500. The problem is that statistic is blended between acute and chronic. Acute cases are generally more critical these days as more drugs are around to "manage" chronic leukemia. You really, really don't want it, but your odds these days are better than ever.

Usually leukemia is an environmental cancer. Benzene is one of the definite links. It is also a secondary cancer -- chemotherapy from prior cancers can damage the immune system and eventually lead to leukemia. Radiation has also been linked. Actually, what amazes me is how fragile the immune system happens to be. Damaging it is far easier than most people would suspect. Granted there is also a history of cancer in my family, so I suspect genetically I'm more prone to mutation, and/or my immune system can't regulate them effectively (since one of its jobs is killing tumor cells).

Granted 22 cases of leukemia and lymphoma over 12 years, could be a lot or perfectly normal... Depending how many workers they have, and the general incidence rate in foreign countries. If they have 10,000 employees, that's one thing, but if they have 250, that's a whole other ball of wax.

In the US, rocketry and various aerospace industries used to be hit with leukemia. Granted that was awhile ago, and once the link to benzene was understood, many more precautions were taken handling various chemicals.

Personally, I'm inclined to believe there might be a problem at the plant. Even if it employs 10,000 people, not all of them are going to be in high-risk jobs working with radiation or suspect chemicals. A "big" number would sound like Samsung is hiding behind their total employee count. I'd like to know the number of "high risk" employees and how many of them were in the group of 22.

RE: Cashing in?
By porkpie on 4/16/2010 9:13:43 AM , Rating: 2
"Personally, I'm inclined to believe there might be a problem at the plant."

You've misread the article. It's not at "a plant", its at all the plants Samsung operates there.

The "personally I'm inclined to believe it" statement indicates what's wrong with many people's thought processes. The willingness to accept claims as fact without solid evidence is at the heart of most of society's problems.

RE: Cashing in?
By ChristopherO on 4/16/2010 12:28:59 PM , Rating: 3
The willingness to accept claims as fact without solid evidence is at the heart of most of society's problems.

Which is total BS and you evidentially didn't read what I said... I would need to know *who* was diagnosed and *what* they did. Samsung could employ 40 million people, but if they all worked in shipping/logistics they aren't in a high risk career and thus should track with national averages.

If they employed 100 QC technicians who used radiation, and 22 of them had leukemia, that would be a different matter. Counting all the factory workers is a pointless excuse and using irrelevant numbers to mask an issue. The article is largely meaningless without this data. For example, as I mentioned before, benzene has a proven link to blood cancers. Statistically, if you come into contact with it, you're in a vastly higher risk category.

The willingness to give be companies a pass and let them outsource labor to countires with virtually no health and safety regulations... Well, that's part of the reason no major fabs are in the US. Chip foundries are some of the nastiest places, a veritable chemical supermarket, and we don't have them domestically in large part due to environmental regulations that make them non cost-competitive when compared to nations with lax environmental standards. Sure labor costs are cheaper abroad, but US environmental policy incurs cost well beyond other factors (for fabs).

RE: Cashing in?
By MGSsancho on 4/19/2010 12:42:49 AM , Rating: 2
This really comes down to, we the public need to see the data, they can with hold names if they like but data with out context means nothing. Sadly this information would be good to help out those suffering not just from the mentioned ailments. =(

RE: Cashing in?
By SAnderson on 4/16/2010 9:50:52 AM , Rating: 2
They probably have 50k+ workers at just their memory plants. Koreans(Samsung is a Korean company) aren't very efficient. They have meetings just to have meetings. No joke, I'm in the semi industry.

To know if Samsung is really at fault one would need to know if these cases all have similar symptoms, similar exposure, leukemia rate of other people in the area, etc. Poor article aimed at damaging Samsung.

RE: Cashing in?
By porkpie on 4/16/2010 10:13:22 AM , Rating: 2
"To know if Samsung is really at fault one would need to know if these cases all have similar symptoms, similar exposure, leukemia rate of other people in the area"

We need to know even more than that. Statistics is a tricky thing. If you tabulate incidence rates for **any** disease across a large enough population, you're going to see clusters where -- for no reason other than sheer randomness -- the rate jumps sharply. Most people don't realize this.

Even professionally done studies typically assume no more than the 5% confidence level. That means if you did 20 such independent studies (using 20 different data sets, of course), you'd expect one of them to turn up a false positive result.

RE: Cashing in?
By eddieroolz on 4/15/2010 2:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
My take is that Leukimia is a disease that develops very slowly, especially if it's a low but constant dose much like the x-ray machine.

For example, some of the survivors of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings died 20-odd years later from various forms of cancer, including Leukimia. If they survived the initial bombings, it was highly likely that they received significant dose of radiation but not quite enough to poison and kill within days.

So similarly, I think that 22 cases in a ~12 year span seems rather in line with everything else. Leukimia isn't a common illness to start with, either.

My $0.02.

RE: Cashing in?
By ChristopherO on 4/15/2010 2:52:22 PM , Rating: 2
Which would be nice if you were correct, but you're not...

Chronic leukemia can be something that you have over many years. Acute leukemia will be fatal within 3-6 months after onset if untreated. And by onset I mean, you start with *one* mutated cell out of billions of white cells, and 3-6 months later the cancerous lineage of that *one* cell can account for more than 90% of your immune system. Acute leukemia is one of the most fatal of treatable cancers.

Acute/Chronic depends purely on the type of mutation that occurs based on exposure. Just getting low dose radiation doesn't mean you end up with a chronic case -- you can have a spontaneous mutation to an acute case just as easily. The primary difference between the two types is the rate of cellular replication, acute is vastly faster. They also express different protein markers, etc, so it's functionally impossible to confuse one type for another.

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