Boiling Frogs-Intel vs. the Village

"Boiling Frogs - Intel vs. the Village" recounts the story of Intel Rio Rancho's impact on the air and water in the Village of Corrales from the mid-1980s to the present day. Updates to this ongoing saga will be posted here.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

ALS and Intel

Note: The neighborhoods around Intel Rio Rancho NM has an ALS rate 28 times higher than normal. This was confirmed by the ATSDR (Toxic Substance Disease Registry) a branch of the CDC when they were sent in to research the area. UPDATED: Dying for tech toys? Chip boom reflected in rising ALS rates By Anna Canzano and Kelly Hatmaker, published: Feb 3, 2015 at 2:16 pm PST: Last Updated: Feb 7, 2015 at 2:12 am PST Daniel Berry wasn't a flashy guy. He wasn't a complainer either. Maybe it was his experience in the military aboard a navy submarine as a young man then overseas in Afghanistan at 42 years old. Whatever the reason, Daniel never complained. About anything. Especially not his health. Daniel Berry (Photo: Berry family) So when he thought he had pulled a muscle, he didn't seek medical attention. Like a lot of men are prone to do, Daniel was just going to tough this out. but after a couple months he started having issues with his left leg. Then one day, his wife Michelle walked into their kitchen. "He was doing dishes and he was wearing shorts and I looked at him and said, oh my gosh, you have to go to the doctor," recalled Michelle. Dan had big calves from years of riding his bike and swimming. But on this day in the fall of 2010, Michelle was alarmed by what she saw. "I told him your left thigh and calf are half the size of the other one. That is not from a pulled muscle! Your legs don't diminish in size like that from that," said Michelle. That was the beginning of the end. The diagnosis? ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a rare neuro-degenerative disorder that traps is victims in their own bodies. It normally strikes when people are in their sixties. Daniel was only 45 years old. By 46, he needed a wheelchair. By 47, a ventilator. And eight months after he turned 49, Daniel was gone. "This disease is horrible and I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy. There's just nobody I'd want to have it," said Michelle Berry. Consider the agony Dan felt -- with a mind as sharp as ever -- wondering until his final breath if somehow his work was connected to his disease. For nearly 15 years, he'd worked as a chip polisher for Intel at the company's Ronler Acres location in Hillsboro. It's a job that exposed him to harsh chemicals. Before dying, he learned of three co-workers at that location who developed ALS, and another at the company's plant in Arizona. One of them died before Dan. A fourth was diagnosed after Dan died. Dan wanted answers from Intel. "My mom was emailing to let them know we had heard more people had gotten ALS and they called her instead of emailing back. They said they were doing a formal investigation and asked for my dad's medical records," recalled Alssya Berry, Dan's daughter. He signed off on the records release and the Berry family says that's really the last they heard from the company. Daniel went to his grave unsure of whether his disease was as random as he initially thought. Lou Gehrig called himself the luckiest man alive. Is it possible these Intel employees were just unlucky? Or was it something else? "If there's a correlation then something needs to be done," said Michelle. "I want my dad's story to be out there. I want people to know other families are going through this and to make people aware this is happening," said Alyssa. Ronler Acres campus under construction 1994. (Photo: Intel Corporation) Intel made Oregon its production hub in the 1990s, and added the 'Fab 20' manufacturing plant to Ronler Acres, where Dan worked, in 1996. According to data from the Oregon Health Authority, the very next year the rate of ALS deaths in Oregon jumped 28 percent, to a then-record high 1.8 per every hundred thousand people. 2003 was another big year at Ronler Acres. That's when Intel offically took the wraps off D1D, a $2 billion dollar research fabrication plant, designed to help keep the company ahead of the market. 2003 was also the first year OHA included ALS as one of Oregon's "Leading Causes of Death;" the ALS death rate had climbed to 3.2 per 100,000 people, the 4th highest in the nation. D1D opened in 2003 as Intel's primary research manufacturing facility. (Photo: Intel/Bruce Forster Photography, Inc.) Lou Gehrig's Disease takes years to kill its victims. In this sort of comparison, you'd expect any ups and downs in ALS activity to occur 'after the fact,' but they don’t. One possible explanation for why ALS deaths had time to 'catch-up': Intel's institutional adherence to Moore's Law. Named for Intel's co-founder, Gordon E. Moore, and enshrined on the company website, Moore's Law says computer processors will double in complexity every two years. To stay on schedule, Intel builds ebbs and flows into production 18-to-36 months in advance; R&D (which is done primarily in Washington County) is charted out even farther into the future than that. Intel calls it the "Tick-Tock" model, and you can read about it on the company website, too. The boom and bust cycle of Intel's fortunes is reflected in the ALS activity OHA reported in the Portland area. Year after year of data reveals each time Intel slowed or stopped production, as it did in 2004, when its processors hit a "thermal wall," or in 2010, when it mothballed Fab 20 - the ALS rate in Washington and Multnomah counties dropped. In the years Intel made a killing, so did ALS. Death rates in Washington and Multnomah Counties climbed after 2008, as Intel's sales surged to meet the rising demand for PCs; in 2012 - when Intel was rolling out its "Ivy Bridge" processor - Lou Gehrig's Disease claimed 44 lives in Washington and Multnomah Counties, a new record for the region. And what about Intel's employees? "When we found the second or third person we were pretty concerned at that point," said Alyssa. "There were people who'd either worked with my dad, worked in the same fab, or had been working for Intel for the same time, 14 years or longer." In fact, Alyssa found obituaries and other internet sources revealing that half a dozen Intel employees in Oregon have been dealt this death sentence over the last 20 years. Reached about this story, Intel said it is aware of the reports of ALS. But spokesman Chuck Mulloy communicated to KATU News: “Based on our investigation and based on the data we have seen we don’t believe there is a correlation between Intel and ALS.” We asked Dr. Richard Clapp of Boston University to review what we found. He produced the most comprehensive examination on record looking at employee at chip making plants like Intel. It found a statistically significant increase in ALS cases among some of IBM's plant workers. He fought IBM in the courts for years to go public with his findings, and won, publishing the results in 2006. Dr. Clapp called the questions raised by KATU "important" and worthy of more study. "I think there will probably be others that will pick up and take this further, and be able to do some research that might be published in a peer reviewed academic journal." Such a study, Dr. Clapp said, would "add to our knowledge about what goes on in this particular industry." Intel is facing some intense scrutiny right now over the chemicals it's releasing into the community from its plants in Washington county. The state didn't know it was releasing fluorides into the air for 30 years. And now it's asking the state to increase those chemical releases.


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