Women who used a cleaning solvent while making computer chips at two IBM plants suffered a higher rate of miscarriages than co-workers, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.
The study, commissioned by IBM and released this week, found that women with the greatest exposure to substances with a base of ethylene glycol ether, or EGEs, suffered 2.8 times more miscarriages than workers who had no exposure.The computer chips are made in "clean rooms," where air is filtered and workers wear coveralls to reduce contamination.
Researchers from Hopkins' School of Public Health studied 561 pregnancies from 1980 through 1989 among employees at IBM's Burlington, Vt., and East Fishkill, N.Y., plants.
Those who worked extensively with EGEs suffered miscarriage rates of 33 percent, while those who had moderate exposure to the solvent had miscarriage rates of 18.9 percent. Women who did not work with the chemical had miscarriage rates of 14.9 percent, said Dr. Ronald Gray, a Johns Hopkins professor.
A second study from 1989 to 1991 found 21 miscarriages among 48 pregnant employees not exposed to the solvent, compared with 27 miscarriages among 44 pregnant clean room workers, six of whom were exposed.
The Hopkins findings are consistent with previous studies that identified EGEs as a possible cause of miscarriages, Gray said.
IBM plans to phase out the chemical by the end of 1994, according to Janet Carnegie, an IBM spokeswoman in Armonk, N.Y.
Ethylene glycol compounds are used in printing, paint manufacturing and cleaning applications in much larger quantities, Gray said.