Such a study, according to NIOSH, would require $3.1 million in funding.

The need for a cancer study stems from a longstanding question of whether or not workers are exposed to various chemicals, including trichloroethylene (TCE), from a chemical spill that occurred on the IBM Endicott facility – now owned by Huron Real Estate Associates – in 1979. A study by the New York City Department of Health indicated that a town nearby the facility had a high incidence of birth defects and certain cancers, such as kidney and testicular cancer.

Officials at NIOSH say they are accepting comments from the public until the end of May. After that, they will determine whether or not to go ahead with the study.

Lynn Pinkerton, a scientist with NIOSH, assessed whether it was scientifically feasible to conduct the study, as most cancer studies among employees of a company are based on existing records. She asserted that combining company personnel data from employees who worked after 1964 with industrial hygiene records from 1980 or later would be sufficient to determine cancer rates of people who worked in the manufacturing departments or other areas within the facility.

“A retrospective cohort study of cancer among former employees would be able to evaluate whether or not employees are more likely to develop or die of certain cancers than the general population,” Pinkerton wrote in her feasibility report. “This type of cancer study would also be able to evaluate whether or not former employees who had potential exposure to chemicals, or who worked in some departments, are more likely to develop or die of certain cancers than the general population or other workers.”

Pinkerton: Study Limitations Not an Issue

Pinkerton warned that determining if cancers are work-related may be limited by lack of data on other factors known to contribute to the development of cancer. For instance, key data may not be available on employees’ medical histories, lifestyle choices (such as smoking) and environmental exposures to chemicals outside the job.

However, Pinkerton stated it was still possible to conclude that a specific type of cancer may be work-related if the extent of cancer observed among employees is greater than what can be explained by other risk factors. If questions about the contribution of workplace exposures to cancer would remain, Pinkerton noted that a follow-up nested, case-control study that would allow a detailed comparison of former workers with cancer to a group of workers without cancer could be considered.

NIOSH officials will receive comments on the report until May 28. They can be submitted online to http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/review/public/103 or mailed to NIOSH Docket Office, 4676 Columbia Parkway MS C-34, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226.