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News briefs, part 2

Two Bomb Explosions Injure 64 In Manchester, England

Los Angeles Times

LONDON

At least 64 people were injured Thursday when two morning-rush-hour explosions rocked Manchester, an English commercial metropolis.

Authorities said bomb squads disposed of several suspect packages in the area, but no more explosive devices were found. The center of the city was sealed off for most of the day as officials tended the wounded and hunted for more bombs.

Police blamed the explosions on the Irish Republican Army, which, as part of its long-running campaign to force Britain out of Northern Ireland, has threatened to disrupt British cities during the Christmas season. They condemned the terrorists' tactic of phoning two warnings -- seven minutes after the first explosion -- and giving misleading information about the location of other bombs.

Six people were taken to the hospital after the first blast, believed to be a car bomb, which damaged an office building in the commercial district. The second explosion occurred 90 minutes later, just after 10 a.m. It injured dozens more. Reports of a third blast were later discounted by police.

Police evacuated a half-mile-square area and sealed off streets. Reports said that most of the injuries were superficial -- cuts and abrasions -- caused by flying glass.

Tax inspector Andy Foot said he heard the explosion from a nearby office. "There was an enormous bang and the sound of crashing glass," he said, "I looked out of the window and saw people rushing down the street. Many looked dazed and panic stricken. Then the Klaxon alarm sounded, and people went out to calm those involved."

A spokesman for Manchester Samaritans, a social welfare group, said one of their volunteers had taken a coded warning call at 8:50 a.m. after the first explosion. The caller's message that there were four bombs planted in the vicinity was passed on to the police.

The IRA appeared to be responsible, said Jim Paterson, assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester. "It is typical of the terrorists who are operating in this country that they should act in this way with complete and utter disregard for the civilian community," he said.

Reproductive Hazard Found In Computer Chip Industry

Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif.

In the most comprehensive study to date of reproductive hazards in the workplace, University of California researchers found that women who work in fabrication areas of computer chip plants are 40 percent more likely to suffer miscarriages then other female workers in the semiconductor industry.

The four-year, $3.8 million study, involving 15,000 workers at 14 computer chip companies. concluded that the miscarriages resulted mainly from exposure to photographic chemicals and solvents -- and especially to a group of compounds known as ethylene-based glycol ethers.

The findings by University of California, Davis, researchers largely confirmed two more limited studies showing increased miscarriage rates among chip-factory workers, and also added weight to decades of animal research that linked glycol ethers to reproductive problems. The findings have implications for workers in other industries, such as painting and printing, which also use glycol ethers.

"We're just beginning to learn about reproductive hazards in the workplace," said Marc B. Schenker, director of the U.C. Davis Center for Occupational and Environmental Health and lead researcher on the chip industry study. "Much more work needs to be done in this industry and other industries."

Although the long-awaited study was financed by the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, the researchers emphasized that they had complete autonomy in carrying out the work. In response to the findings, the trade group urged its members to accelerate their efforts to find substitutes for glycol ethers. It also called on member companies to reduce worker exposure to all potentially hazardous chemicals. Most chip companies also allow pregnant women or others who believe they are at risk to transfer to less-hazardous jobs.

"I'm impressed with how aggressive (the industry) has been in responding to this," said Schenker.

But worker safety advocates say there has long been evidence of reproductive hazards in the chip-making process, and that the industry has moved much too slowly in addressing the problem. About 70 percent of the more then 35,000 chip production workers in the United States are women, many of them Latino and Asian immigrants.

"We've been trying to get the industry to do something for the last 10 years," said Flora Chu, director of the Asian Workers Project at the Santa Clara (Calif.) Center for Occupational Safety and Health. "We would like to see them immediately stop the use of glycol ethers. Gradual phasing out is not enough."

Chu also criticized the study for not looking at birth defects and long-term chronic health effects that might result from exposure to chip-making chemicals. The researchers did look more broadly at short-term health effects and found respiratory problems, such as wheezing, and skin irritations among workers exposed to the chemicals.

Women exposed to the chemicals also had more difficulty getting pregnant, the researchers found. And the small group of pregnant women with the highest exposure to the chemicals in question were twice as likely to have miscarriages as non-production workers.

Because many different chemicals are used in close proximity to one another in the chip manufacturing process, the researchers had difficulty sorting out exactly which ones were causing miscarriages. The primary culprits were ethylene-based glycol ethers, but propylene-based glycol ethers and other solvents also appeared to have some correlation with reproductive problems, the researchers concluded.

The chemicals are used in a photographic process that imprints circuit patterns on the slabs of silicon that form the raw material of computer chips. Other elements of the chip-production process, notably the phase in which metals are deposited onto the silicon to form the circuits themselves, were not found to pose reproductive risks.