Lung Function and General Illness Symptoms in a Semiconductor Manufacturing Facility

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Large quantities of potent gases, dopants, photoactive chemicals (photoresists, photoinitiators), solvents, and ionizing radiation are used in the semiconductor manufacturing process, but little is known about the occurrence of respiratory disease from exposures in this industry. The purpose of this study was to assess the pulmonary risk by conducting pulmonary function tests and symptoms survey in a semiconductor plant in Taiwan. This study is part of a clinical survey conducted on 926 workers in a semiconductor plant in Taiwan in July 1995. The study items included a standard self-administered questionnaire, chest x-rays, pulmonary function tests, and physical examinations in 249 workers. There was a borderline significance of higher prevalence (P = 0.06) of restrictive lung abnormality in male photolithographic workers (4 of 21; 19.1%) than in male control workers (0 of 17; 0%), and the smoking- and age-adjusted odds ratio was 4.1 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.41-41.6). There was a significantly higher prevalence (P = 0.02) of restrictive lung abnormality in male ion-implantation workers (5 of 19; 26.3%) than in male control workers (0 of 17; 0%), and the smoking- and age-adjusted odds ratio was 3.7 (95% CI, 0.52-26.7). There were significantly higher prevalences of airway irritation, eye irritation, headache, stress, tiredness, and poor memory in female photolithographic or etch/diffusion workers than in control workers. This study suggests that restrictive lung abnormality is a potential health effect in male silicon-wafer fabrication workers in the semiconductor industry. The tasks of male process, maintenance, and equipment engineers put them at risk for intermittent short-term peak exposure. This may account for a higher prevalence of mild restrictive lung abnormality among male engineers of photolithographic and ion-implantation sections. The findings of this medical surveillance are tentative, but they suggest that further investigation of the etiologic factors and the subsequent health effects is necessary.

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