Korea's chip industry has exposed women to leukemia risk

May 23, 2019 //By Peter Clarke
Korea's chip industry has exposed women to leukemia risk
Women who worked in South Korean wafer fabs over the last decade have been more likely to develop leukemia and die from it than men, reports The Korea Times, referencing a recently published government report.

The findings were that women have been 1.55 times more likely to get leukemia than all employees and 1.19 times more likely to get leukemia than the general population. The risk of death from the disease was even greater at 2.3 times that of the general workforce and 1.71 times more likely than the general public.

The information was compiled by The Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA) from a 10-year study that included 200,000 female employees at nine factories and six chipmakers, the report said. The study included sites belonging to Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix.

The data showed that the higher rates of incidence could be found particularly among those aged between 20 and 24 years old. However, the report did not give reasons for the imbalance. "Despite failing to find a specific cause for developing leukemia at the factories, we think that working conditions may have been a factor," the agency is reported to have said.

The Korea Times observed that South Korean clean room staff are mostly young women. It is also the case that a number of dangerous and environmentally unfriendly chemicals are used in clean rooms where young women would face an increased risk of exposure.

The data is relevant to a controversy that dates back to 2007 when a former Samsung employee, Hwang Yu-mi died of acute myeloid leukemia, aged 22 years. Hwang had worked cleaning wafers with solvents on an unautomated production line. A Korean feature film called Another Promise, released in 2014, portrays the struggle of her father – Sang-gi Hwang – to show his daughter's death from leukaemia was the result of working conditions.

Samsung denied responsibility at the time but has since agreed to pay compensation of up to 150 million won (about US$125,000) per illness over alleged work-related illnesses and deaths.

Related links and articles:

Samsung agrees compensation over chip worker illnesses

Report: Samsung appoints panel to protect fab workers

Samsung gives ground over chip workers' cancers


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