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Andrews, Kurtis W. & Savitz, David A. (1999). Accuracy of Industry and Occupation on Death Certificates of Electric Utility Workers: Implications for Epidemiologic Studies of Magnetic Fields and Cancer. Bioelectromagnetics, 20(8), 512-518.


A substantial epidemiologic literature has relied on occupation and industry information from death certificates to make inferences about the association of electric and magnetic field exposure with cancer, but the validity of the occupational data on death certificates is questionable. We compared occupation and industry information from death certificates to company work histories for 793 electric utility workers who died from brain cancer (n=143), leukemia (n=156), lung cancer (n=246, randomly sampled), and non-cancer causes (n=248, randomly sampled). Nearly 75% of death certificates correctly indicated utility industry employment and of those, 48% matched the longest held occupation derived from company work histories. Hence, only 36% matched on both industry and occupation. We computed odds ratios relating occupations involving magnetic field exposure to brain cancer and leukemia both for the occupation listed on the death certificate and for the longest-held occupation based on company records in order to examine the impact of exposure misclassification based on reliance on the death certificate information. For brain cancer, the odds ratio was 1.2 based on death certificates and 1.7 based on company work history, suggesting some attenuation due to misclassification. For leukemia, death certificate information yielded an odds ratio of 0.9, whereas company work histories yielded an odds ratio of 1.3. Although work histories are limited to the period of employment in a specific company, these data suggest that there is substantial misclassification in use of death certificate information on industry and occupation of utility workers, as found in other industries. The limited quality of occupation and industry information on death certificates argues against relying on such information to evaluate modest associations with mortality.


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Andrews, Kurtis W.
Savitz, David A.