Mortality among autoworkers manufacturing electronics in Huntsville, Alabama Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • DeBono, Nathan
    • Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Epidemiology
  • This research was initiated in response to concerns raised by former workers at automotive electronics manufacturing facilities in Huntsville, Alabama regarding a suspected excess of mortality among their colleagues. Interviews conducted with workers identified exposure to a variety of industrial agents, including lead-based solder and chlorinated organic solvents, in addition to hazardous working conditions at the original plant building, as sources of concern. This work describes an epidemiologic investigation of mortality among workers at the Huntsville facilities. A prospective cohort study of 4,396 hourly and salaried members of the United Autoworkers (UAW) ever-employed at the Huntsville facilities between 1972 and 1993 was conducted. The cohort was enumerated from UAW employment and pension records with mortality follow-up through 2016. Standardized mortality ratios (SMR) were estimated to compare cause-specific mortality in the cohort with U.S. and Alabama general population reference rates. Poisson regression was used to estimate mortality rate ratios (RR) within the cohort according to proxies for exposure, including duration of employment, calendar period of hire, and skilled trade job status. Relative to U.S. referent rates, there was a modest excess of all-cause mortality among White female workers (SMR 1.08, 95% CI: 0.99-1.18) and among workers hired pre-1977 (SMR 1.10, 95% CI: 0.99-1.22). There was a moderate excess of nervous system disorder (SMR 1.24, 95% CI: 0.91-1.65) and brain and nervous system cancer (SMR 1.31, 95% CI: 0.67-2.28) mortality in the overall cohort. Internal comparison analyses showed that pre-1977 hires exhibited elevated adjusted all-cause (RR = 1.29; 95% CI 1.09, 1.52), cardiovascular (RR = 1.38; 95% CI 1.03, 1.86), and digestive system disease (RR = 2.31; 95% CI: 1.04, 5.10) mortality rates relative to 1984-1993 hires. All-cause mortality estimates from SMR analyses were greater than anticipated based on findings from other UAW cohorts. The moderate excess of malignant and non-malignant nervous system disease mortality is consistent with exposure to neurotoxic agents used in manufacturing processes. Elevated mortality among pre-1977 hires is also consistent with concerns over hazardous working conditions at the original plant building. The results of this study suggest that worker health was adversely impacted by employment at the facilities.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Keil, Alex
  • Richardson, David
  • Troester, Melissa
  • Marshall, Stephen
  • Robinson, Whitney
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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