Stuck in the EH&S spotlight

The U.S. semiconductor industry contends that the health of its workers—and the planet—is a top priority. So what are SIA, SEMI and Sematech doing about environmental health and safety (EH&S)? And is it enough?

By Sheila Galatowitsch

For a high-profile industry that gets its share of criticism on the environmental health and safety (EH&S) front, the semiconductor community has, for the past 12 years, operated under a self-imposed safety standard called SEMI S2.

The standard covers EH&S issues related to manufacturing equipment, including chemical safety, ergonomics, energy conservation and seismic survivability. “This standard goes well beyond baseline compliance in a lot of areas,” says Pauline Derbyshire, CSP, CIH, chemical engineering manager of the microelectronics group at Earth Tech (San Jose, Calif.). “It surprises me that I don't hear that much about it, because all the big device makers use this as a standard purchase specification.”

SEMI S2 is evidence of the industry's willingness to voluntarily police itself and avoid the kind of government regulatory oversight—and contentious legal challenges—that might slow down technological innovations.

It's also a reflection of the industry maturing and taking responsibility for the health of its workers and the planet. “People see EH&S as a necessary part of doing business and making themselves feel comfortable with what they do for a living,” says Derbyshire.

But the top three industry standards drivers—the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA; San Jose, Calif.), Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI; San Jose, Calif.) and International Sematech (Austin, Texas)—are learning that staying on top of EH&S concerns is an ongoing process that demands constant attention from specialists in a wide variety of fields.

“Occupational health and safety is never something that, after you do it, it's taken care of, and then you go on to something else—especially in an industry this large with the number of toxic agents it handles, and one that is rapidly changing and evolving,” says Marc Schenker, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine.

And Schenker should know. From 1989 to 1992, he headed an independent study commissioned by the SIA to investigate the link between miscarriages in fab workers and chemical exposure. As a result of the study, the industry voluntarily eliminated use of ethylene-based glycol ethers in photolithography chemicals that were implicated in the miscarriages. “It's positive that they are taking on these issues, and, in fact, that's not done in many industries,” he says.

SIA's three-part Worker Health Project

Schenker is again advising SIA on a proposed study of cancer risk among cleanroom workers. He is part of a six-member Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) SIA created earlier this year to provide objective scientific and medical advice to its Worker Health Project committee. The SAB includes experts in medicine, industrial hygiene, epidemiology and toxicology who will advise SIA on matters relating to health and safety, and review the scientific quality and credibility of SIA-sponsored research.

Key among this research is a retrospective cohort mortality scoping study, in which scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health are evaluating whether data exists to conduct a multi-year retrospective epidemiologic study of cancer risk among cleanroom workers.

The scientists are reviewing several manufacturers' employment data to determine if there is sufficient historical information to make a study meaningful. Specifically, they are assessing whether records include employees' work within the fab, job title and work area, as well as industrial hygiene information and health data.

The Johns Hopkins team will report back to the SIA in early 2004 on the quality and quantity of data sources, and recommend study approaches. While it is not yet certain the team will recommend that a cancer risk study be undertaken, such a study would end the “public debate in the absence of scientific data,” says Schenker, and provide a foundation for appropriate policy and health practice.

During a company drill for anthrax exposure, an EH&S system at Cymer Inc. (San Diego) proves capable of shutting off an air handler in a particular office in less than one minute.
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The John Hopkins research is one of three Worker Health Project initiatives funded by the SIA, which also hired Charles W. (Chuck) Axten, Ph.D., CIH, to oversee the work as project manager. Axten is president of Health Risk Solutions LLC (McLean, Va.), an occupational and environmental health consulting firm that specializes in the health effects of toxic substances.

The second initiative is a survey of the health surveillance programs of non-semiconductor manufacturing companies. Don Lassiter, Ph.D., managing consultant with Occupational Health Systems (Norman, Okla.) has begun this work, which will identify aspects of health surveillance programs that may serve as early warning systems for occupational disease. He is also evaluating whether it is feasible to develop common job descriptions and language for collecting and maintaining relevant data, and assessing how that data could be maintained and used for health surveillance.

Lassiter already conducts a yearly survey for SIA on work-related injuries and illnesses, information that is used by manufacturers to improve their health and safety records.

The third part of SIA's Worker Health Project—the primary prevention initiative—will identify ways to provide better chemical and process information before introducing new chemicals into the semiconductor manufacturing workplace.

Under contract are Environmental and Occupational Risk Management Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), which will evaluate opportunities to minimize potential exposures during equipment maintenance operations, and Weston Solutions Inc. (West Chester, Pa.), which will conduct a survey of how various companies outside the semiconductor industry manage the evaluation, selection and introduction of new chemicals into the workplace. Both the health surveillance and primary prevention initiatives will conclude sometime next year.

SIA communications director Molly Tuttle would not disclose the association's monetary investment in the current initiatives, which were launched on the recommendations of a seven-member Scientific Advisory Committee SIA formed in 1999 to look into a possible cancer connection.

Three years and growing

SEMI, meanwhile, is three years into its Global Care EH&S program aimed at the group's member base of semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers, as well as device manufacturers.

CEOs of 47 companies have signed on to the initiative, which is designed to share information rather than be prescriptive. Each company decides how it will apply the Global Care principles within its own corporate structure, and then appoints a liaison to share information about implementation with other initiative participants.

A working group of liaisons from Global Care member companies have completed a first draft of a guidance document on managing EH&S improvements in such areas as workplace health and safety, resource conservation, and product stewardship. Following further revision, the document will be released to members in 2004, says Aimee Bordeaux, director of SEMI's EH&S division.

“Most SEMI companies are small and mid-sized,” notes Bordeaux. “The guidance notes will leverage from companies that have EH&S-dedicated personnel, and that will help these smaller companies begin to draft their own plans.”

The association has also collected success stories from the Global Care program that can be found on the SEMI Web site ( “Some are small and some are big, but all are steps in the right direction,” says Bordeaux. “Hopefully, they will give inspiration to other companies.”

In one success story featuring Cymer Inc. (San Diego, Calif.), a manufacturer of excimer laser illumination sources used in deep-ultraviolet photolithography systems, the supplier installs a digital building management system that saves on energy consumption, maintenance and insurance. During a company drill for anthrax exposure, the system proves capable of shutting off an air handler in a particular office in less than one minute.

In other stories, equipment supplier Tokyo Electron Ltd. (Minato-ku, Tokyo) recounts how it improved EH&S to expand its semiconductor business, and fluid management system provider Microbar (Sunnyvale, Calif.) tells how it recycles and reuses just about everything in the office environment.

SEMI also plans to promote a Web-based subscription service that will track international EH&S regulations and has launched an ad campaign to build EH&S awareness. “Our whole premise is to raise the collective knowledge level of our members and provide them with good, consistent information—and that may require us to develop success stories, write standards and do industry advocacy,” says Bordeaux.

“Design out” risk

Over at Sematech, researchers continue to address EH&S concerns outlined in the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors 2001 Edition, which include chemicals, materials and equipment management, resource conservation, workplace protection, climate change mitigation, and design for EH&S.

“We are striving to eliminate or prevent any of the problems associated with those five challenges by doing early EH&S assessments,” says Coleen Regan, EH&S program manager.

For example, to address workplace protection, the consortium is conducting industrial hygiene monitoring and safety assessments on developmental processes and chemistries. For climate change mitigation, it is evaluating emissions from new manufacturing processes to ensure industry is not increasing the emissions of potential global warmers.

“Instead of addressing EH&S problems in the fab, we're trying to design out EH&S risk by working with technologists as they are developing options for the roadmap,” says Regan. “In this way, we prevent EH&S show-stoppers from getting introduced into manufacturing.”

All three major industry groups cooperate on EH&S concerns by attending each other's conferences and committee meetings, and working together on such focused targets as PFC emission reduction.

Considering the extensive resources and personnel it devotes to these issues, the semiconductor industry is doing as good a job in EH&S as any of the very enlightened companies in more mature industries, such as chemical manufacturing, says Michael Fischman, MD, MPH, Intel's (Walnut Creek, Calif.) worldwide medical director. Fischman has worked in occupational medicine since 1984 in a variety of settings, including biotechnology, health care, steel and petroleum industries.

While he thinks it is important to address a possible cancer risk among cleanroom workers, Fischman says it is not the only priority. There's a “constant need to be vigilant” in the management of potentially hazardous equipment and chemicals. “A cancer epidemiology study will look at hazards faced by workers 15 to 20 years ago, but the work environment has changed dramatically since that time.” says Fischman.

“My view is that there is probably not an increased cancer risk because of the excellent controls in place that minimize exposure to chemicals that might be carcinogenic,” he adds. Every chemical considered for use in chipmaking is first evaluated for its health and environmental impact. “In some cases,” says Fischman, “materials are not brought in because they pose unacceptable hazards. A lot of industries don't have similar preventive programs.”

The semiconductor industry contends it is doing all it can to address EH&S issues in a sound scientific manner, but that doesn't satisfy critics who want immediate action (see sidebar, “What the critics want”). Like it or not, the industry will remain in the EH&S spotlight for the foreseeable future.

SHEILA GALATOWITSCH, a special correspondent to CleanRooms magazine, is based in Denver, Colo. She can be reached at: [email protected]

What the critics want

For an industry that prides itself for being on the cutting edge, the semiconductor industry is way behind on EH&S issues, according to Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (San Jose, Calif.).

The oil, chemical, auto and steel industries are far ahead of chip makers because they routinely perform epidemiological studies and monitor workplace safety. “It is ludicrous that the SIA continues to claim that it doesn't know if there are adequate records to conduct epidemiological studies. . .These companies have, for many years, been keeping very good data on their workers, but they have been unwilling to share it or even to cooperate in efforts to assess it,” Smith claims.

SIA President George Scalise this year met with one of the industry's biggest critics, the Santa Clara Center for Occupational Safety and Health (SCCOSH), after that group petitioned SIA to undertake a study immediately and ask its member companies to implement medical surveillance.

Here's a partial list of what the SIA's critics want the industry to do without delay:

  • Conduct regular and routine epidemiological studies at facilities worldwide to establish baseline data on chronic disease patterns and birth defect patterns;
  • Conduct routine medical and industrial hygiene monitoring in all workplaces, and post the results on a public Web site;
  • Support toxicological research to examine chronic exposure to low-level multiple chemicals;
  • Commit to working with stakeholders to develop strategies for safer chemical alternatives;
  • Address the serious consequences of the ill health of the many people who have worked in the industry, “especially the pioneers who are now suffering.”

Scientists probe cancer risk

SIA has assembled a team of scientists on behalf of its Worker Health Initiative. Here's a brief look at a few of the experts probing the link between cancer and cleanrooms (full bios are available at

Genevieve Matanoski, MD, Ph.D.—Matanoski is the principal investigator of the Johns Hopkins University team looking at available data for a large-scale study. An expert on the epidemiology of chronic diseases in large populations, she is frequently called upon by Congress to assist in developing national policy.

Nurtan Alan Esmen, M.Sc., Ph.D.—A member of SIA's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), Esmen is the author of more than 150 articles and abstracts on occupational and environmental hygiene, aerosol physics, air pollution, epidemiology and related subjects. He has contributed seminal theoretical and practical work in the reconstruction of industrial exposures.

Grace K. LeMasters, Ph.D.—LeMasters, also an SAB member, has a 20-year history of conducting research on epidemiological studies related to respiratory disease, cytogenetic effects, reproductive effects, and ergonomics and musculoskeletal research.

Gary M. Marsh, M.S., Ph.D.—SAB member Marsh is an expert in the area of biostatistics, occupational and environmental epidemiology, quantitative risk assessment, statistical computing, and health services evaluation. He is senior author of a software package that is the standard analytic tool used in occupational health research.

John (Jack) A. Moore, M.S., D.V.M.—Moore spent 14 years at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and was assistant administrator of the Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. President of the Toxicology Education Foundation, this SAB member is working to establish an international toxicology database for high-production volume chemicals.

Robert C. Spear, M.S. Ph.D.—Spear, SAB member and founding director of the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, is working on the use of mathematical and statistical techniques in the assessment and control of exposures to both chemical and biological agents.


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