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Former employees at an automotive electronics manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Alabama raised concerns over suspected excess mortality among their fellow workers. The United Autoworkers (UAW) union sought the help of epidemiologists to investigate these concerns. In response, we conducted a study of cause-specific mortality among 4,396 workers employed at the facility between 1972 and 1993. The cohort was enumerated from UAW employment and pension records. Follow-up for vital status and cause of death was conducted through 2016 using UAW pension records and the U.S. National Death Index. Interviews with former employees identified lead-based solder, chlorinated solvents, and asbestos as exposures of concern during the assembly of electronic circuit boards. External comparisons of mortality with U.S. general population rates indicated an excess of all-cause mortality among White female workers and among all workers hired prior to 1977 at the original plant building. There was also evidence of excess mortality in the overall cohort for malignant and non-malignant diseases of the brain and nervous system. Internal comparisons indicated workers hired at the original plant building had an increased adjusted rate of mortality due to brain and nervous system cancer, stroke, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma relative to later hires. Our finding of a relative excess of nervous system disease mortality in the cohort is consistent with worker concerns over exposure to lead and chlorinated solvents.
Presenter: Nathan DeBono
Nathan DeBono is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been collaborating with the United Autoworkers (UAW) Health & Safety Department to conduct a mortality investigation among former employees exposed to lead and chlorinated solvents at an electronics manufacturing facility in Alabama. He is a trainee with the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) doctoral training program in Occupational Epidemiology and is a former student research fellow at the NIOSH Industrywide Studies Branch (IWSB) in Cincinnatti, Ohio. His prior research has focused on racial inequalities in breast cancer incidence in North Carolina. His research interests include community-based participatory research, disease investigations in the workplace, and cancer prevention.
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