A GROUP of 70 Scottish women who claim they have developed cancers and serious reproductive illnesses after working at a microchip manufacturers in Greenock are taking their landmark legal battle, seeking millions in compensation, to the US.

Court action in America is the latest stage in a fight for answers by employees and former workers at the National Semiconductor Company, which opened its Scottish concern in the 1970s.

Their support group, Phase Two - which stands for People for Health and Safety in Electronics - want the multinational to pay for what they allege has been a gross failure to protect production-line workers from contamination by the chemical substances to which they were exposed at work.

Campaigners say at least 70 people who have worked at the Greenock factory have developed serious illnesses, including breast and brain cancers, leukemia, and miscarriages.

Some women have had children with birth defects, which they have linked to exposure to toxins. Chemicals, gases, and acids used in the production process of microchips are being blamed for their damaged health.

The workers are being represented by personal injury specialists Thompsons Solicitors. A lawyer for Thompsons, Mr Frank Maguire, has been liaising with American attorneys while filing the legal case at a court in California's Santa Clara County - the headquarters of the company.

Mr Maguire said yesterday: ''I was contacted by Phase Two to investigate the possibility of harm to current and former employees. On investigating the matter, it became apparent that the responsibility for any fault did not lie with the company in Scotland because business was conducted from California.

''We realised there was a common interest with people who had been exposed to the same substances in America and the same degree of harm was arising. After liaising with two US law firms, we have teamed up to conduct the litigation together.''

He added: ''The women at the Greenock plant were working in the same conditions and were exposed to the same sort of chemicals as those in the US. Indeed, some of the Scottish employees also worked at some time in the US.

''There is overwhelming evidence exposure to the substances with which they were required to work caused very serious health problems and although management knew or should have known of these dangers, they failed to do anything about it. Any amounts as far as damages are concerned will be decided by a US jury.''

Those organising the legal battle have urged others who have worked at the Greenock plant and are subsequently suffering ill health to come forward.

Grandmother Grace Morrison, the Phase Two secretary, developed cancer after working at the Greenock plant for 16 years. Her illness is currently in remission.

She said yesterday: ''Bringing this case into the American courts will be a major step in forcing the company to account for its lack of concern for the welfare of the employees. It seems so much more important than compensation money.''

In April this year, Dr Joseph LaDou accused the National Semiconductor Company of treating Scotland like a Third World country by exporting outmoded equipment to its Greenock plant.

NSC refused to comment but claimed it was co-operating fully with safety agencies to identify potential health hazards inside and outside the plant.

Dr LaDou, director of the International Centre for Occupational Medicine at California University, was speaking at a conference at Glasgow University on the hidden hazards of work. He said the cascade system of exporting production plant occurred when increasingly stringent environment standards were imposed in the US.

National Semiconductor (UK) Ltd said last night: ''We believe the lawsuit is without merit. An individuals' health is affected by many factors, such as family history, eating, drinking, and smoking habits.

''The Annual Report of Public Health 1996 for Argyll and Clyde Public Health Department indicates the Inverclyde area has a higher rate of coronary heart disease, strokes, and cancers and that much of this can be attributed to lifestyle factors such as smoking and a poor diet.''

A confidential legal freephone helpline for former NSC employees is available on 0800 801299 and Phase Two councillors can be contacted on 01475 729076.