The semiconductor industry is no stranger to severe allegations and drawn out legal battles concerning the issue of environmental health and safety (EH&S). These concerns have followed the industry since its inception and will continue to ride its heels as long as the use of chemicals and gases are core to success.
The James Moore and Alida Hernandez case currently unfolding in Santa Clara County against IBM and its chemical suppliers is the latest chapter. Our readers will be bombarded with updates in mainstream media sources, but we've made a commitment to follow the case, offering updates as they're made available online (www.cleanrooms.com).
This month's Special Report (see page 14) is an overview of the all-too-often-overlooked efforts being taken by SIA, SEMI and Sematech—the industry's leading standards makers—to help this volatile market continue to roll out new innovations while developing safer EH&S practices and procedures for its cleanroom-based processes.
It would be easy to sit back and dissect the “politics” of such organizations and claim that too much “lip service” is being put out in light of the current case. Instead, we've put together a balanced package of information allowing readers to decide if enough effort is really being put into protecting the fab worker.
The semiconductor industry is a volatile one, but it does have a record of knowing its processes and solving its problems based on sound science. Take a look back to the 1989-1992 timeframe when an independent SIA study, headed up by University of California-Davis' Marc Schenker, examined the link between miscarriages in fab workers and chemical exposure. The study led to the “voluntary” elimination of ethylene-based glycol ethers in the photolithography chemicals that were in question.
Too little, too late? Well, the research was complete, the findings sound and positive steps were taken in an effort to eliminate the problem.
Schenker is involved again in a six-person Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) that the SIA created in early 2003 to advise on three Worker Health Project initiatives. One highly anticipated study will come next month from scientists from the Johns Hopkins that will evaluate whether there is sufficient historical data to make a “cancer-risk among cleanrooms workers” study possible.
Cases like Moore/Hernandez are often the genesis of new practices and procedures. Let's hope that they may push sound research forward that will lead to sound decisions in the future.
Michael A. Levans