A National Cancer Institute study of workers at Hill Air Force Base exposed to solvents in aircraft maintenance shops, has found that deaths from all causes were significantly lower than among the general population, but there may have been a "slight increase" in deaths from multiple myelomas, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in women, and cancer of the liver in men.
Among men, those with less than five years of service tended to have the highest mortality ratios, while among women those with five or more years of service tended to have the largest excesses.The American Federation of Government Employees has complained since the mid-1970s that chemical exposures were harming workers' health. The present study grew out of a congressional investigation in 1979.
The Deseret News obtained the still-incomplete NCI report from sources here who asked not to be identified.
The university was a subcontractor for the 144-page report. Principal investigator was Dr. Jeffrey Lee, director of industrial hygiene at the U., and associate professor, Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.
Lee said no follow-up study is planned.
"But we would like to emphasize that the study addressed causes of mortality only, and was limited by the fact that we had to look at people who were exposed some time ago," he said. "Further follow-up studies of morbidity, or effects that may be present in current employees, are warranted."
The NCI study showed that Hill workers had lower mortality rates from all malignant cancers, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and accidents. The deaths from multiple myelomas, however, were estimated at 2.36 times the Utah average, and from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at 2.12 times the expected rate.
NCI said the fact that the excess deaths among women increased with length of service at Hill suggested they were related to occupational factors. No such pattern existed among men, NCI reported.
"We may not have seen the peak in" deaths from these causes among women, NCI said.
There was an increase among men between 1980 and 1982 of 3.58 in liver cancer, NCI related, but cautioned that liver cancer is often mis-diagnosed, and may be caused by a primary cancer located elsewhere in the body.
Most studies elsewhere of occupational hazards among aircraft mechanics have been ambivalent, NCI noted.
Among the Hill women, NCI also found an excess of deaths from Lou Gehrig's disease, but the Institute
said the current study was not able to assess that issue.
The study examined 269,000 man-years of follow-up for white males and 99,000 for white women at Hill, a size that makes the study weak in its ability to detect moderate increases in the risk of rare cancers. Some of the excesses could be the result of chance, NCI cautioned.
The study found that Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is higher in Davis and Weber counties than in the U.S. as a whole, it concluded that the excess in Hill workers was due to occupational factors.
For males, while there were more deaths than expected from multiple myeloma among those with 20 or more years of employment, there were fewer cases among those with longer employment at Hill.
Asthma was found more often in males with less than five years' service, but not among those with longer seniority at the base.
Of the 14,457 Hill workers screened who had worked in maintenance operations since 1952, some 3,153 had died when the study was made. A total of 14 men died of multiple myeloma, compared to an expected 9.2. Among women, 10 died of non-Hodgkin's disease while 4.7 deaths would be expected from Utah statistical tables.